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Chorale joins Pro Arte for uplifting concert

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PRO ARTE CHAMBER

ORCHESTRA AND THE

BACK BAY CHORALE

Beverly Taylor, guest conductor.

Margery Hellmold, soloist.

Works by Poulenc, Ravel, & Durufl'e.

Sanders Theater, Sunday, December 10.

By DEBBY LEVINSON

THE PRO ARTE CHAMBER Orchestra and the Back Bay Chorale have always had a special relationship. Their 22nd concert together was special indeed, as the two groups presented "Un No"el Fran,cais" (A French Christmas), a program of spiritual works by French composers Maurice Durufl'e, Francis Poulenc, and Maurice Ravel.

The concert began with Durufl'e's Four Motets based on Gregorian Plainsong, Op. 10, which sets texts from various Catholic Feast days -- Maundy Thursday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul -- to music based on the repetitive Gregorian plainsongs. Each motet was perfectly balanced, allowing the Chorale to swell to a unified crest in the first motet, "Ubi c`aritas," and to bring out the uplifting spirit of the brief third motet, "Tu es P'etrus." The fourth motet, "T`antum 'ergo," was a little unfocused, however.

The Chorale's second effort was Francis Poulenc's Four Motets for the Season of Christmas. Like the Durufl'e, this piece was sung unaccompanied. "O magnum mysterium," the opening motet, began pianissimo in a minor chord and had many exposed parts, particularly for the sopranos. Dynamics played a large role in this motet as well, and the line ". . . jacentem in praesepio" featured a magnificent crescendo from the Chorale, followed by a slow, dying fade.

Dynamics were used just as powerfully in the second motet, "Quem vidistis pastores dicite," with the basses' lovely counterpoint to the sopranos. And the Chorale's delivery of the fourth motet, "Hodie Christus natus est," was truly inspirational, as joyful as Christmas itself. They seemed genuinely affected by the words they sang, and the final "alleluia" came to a glorious crescendo.

The Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra took the stage after intermission to perform Ravel's Pavane pour une Infante D'efunte ("Pavane for a Dead Infanta"). The touching oboe solo later echoed by horns and violins and the flowing harp textures lended to the piece's impressionistic atmosphere. As she had when directing the Back Bay Chorale, guest conductor Beverly Taylor brought a much-needed sense of balance and evenness to this work of many subtleties. The moody Pavane is a very complex piece, and Taylor brought the best out in the orchestra.

The final selection of the afternoon was Poulenc's Gloria, a work consisting of six songs for chorus and orchestra that Poulenc referred to as "a large choral symphony." Here the Chorale, along with soloist Margery Hellmold, joined Pro Arte on stage.

Gloria proved to be a disjointed but effective work. The first song, "Gloria," had a majestic opening reminiscent of a martial piece or a processional, but was strangely ominous for a piece praising God. Other songs were livelier, such as the fourth one, "Domine fili unigenite."

Hellmold did not sing until the third movement, "Domine Deus." She had an expressive voice that brought emotion to the piece. While she did not seem challenged by this work -- perhaps because she had sung it before with the Julliard Orchestra and Chorus -- she delivered her words with great passion. Her high notes in the "Deus Agnus" of the song "Domine Deus, Agnus Dei" were unmatched in clarity of tone. I was disappointed that Hellmold's considerable talents were not more heavily utilized, for she only sang on three songs, including the final one, "Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris." This song had a

strong a cappella entrance followed by an equally strong response from the orchestra. The "Jesu Christe" was stirring, and the delicate pianissimo ending brought the piece -- and the concert -- to a soothing close.

This concert also marked a new addition to Pro Arte's "Access to the Best Music" program, which provides the elderly and people with special needs with concert tickets and transportation to and from Sanders Theater. For the first time, a portion of the program was transcribed in Braille. Hopefully, this new feature will allow a section of Pro Arte's audience to enjoy the orchestra's excellent performances even more.