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NMSC concert review: Honegger, “King David”

The article below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of February 3, 2012.

Chorus stretches with “David”

Rarely heard work an occasional treat

by D.S. Crafts

For the second concert of its inaugural season, the New Mexico Symphonic Chorus chose to produce King David by Honegger. It is refreshing that the organization is willing to program beyond the too-often-tried and too-well-true.

Arthur Honegger was part of that group of early-20th-century French composers known as Les Six. Their goal was to utilize the forms and idioms of contemporary popular music, rejecting the traditions of Romanticism and Impressionism, an attitude that Honegger later came to reject, however. Something of a hybrid between opera and oratorio, King David launched the composer to an international reputation.

It's an uneven work, to be sure. There are a few spots that sound like less-than-stellar movie music. But on the whole the piece is well worth reviving every now and again, full of bold color and dramatic graphic gesture.

Essentially, it tells the biblical story of King David from shepherd boy to victorious king, and finally the corruption of absolute power. It must be noted that the Philistines have gotten a bum rap for millennia. Most probably expatriate Greeks, they were anything but what their name has come to symbolize, having produced some of the most beautiful artifacts of the ancient world. But here they are still cast as villains.

The short scenes are connected by means of a narrator, Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld stepping forward in Sunday's performance at the National Hispanic Cultural Center's Journal Theatre. In a departure from the usual practice, he read the biblical quotes in the original Hebrew. It added a sense of the exotic but not much help for those who do not speak the language.

Music Director Roger Melone brings a buoyant sense of enthusiasm to everything he conducts, leading some outstanding performances by chorus and the group of 18 instrumentalists alike. The short but spirited “Song of Victory” was appropriately boisterous, as was the psalm “In my distress,” balanced by the particular tenderness of “Thee will I love,” one of the highlights of the afternoon.

As the Witch of Endor, actress Leslee Richards produced a chilling scene of necromancy. Tenor soloist Eric Parker and boy alto Sean Jahner both sang effectively. The two female soloists could have been stronger, though soprano Marilyn Thomas Bernard grew more secure as her voice became focused in the upper register, especially above the chorus in the Finale of Part Two.

The hopeful opening of Part Three reveled in a play of trumpets as the chorus sang with heightened sensibility “Now My Voice in Song Up-Soaring.”

The work ended with an elevated spirit of expansive optimism, reminiscent of the same composer's Christmas Oratorio. The metaphor of the blossoming flower prevails.

Next: New Mexico Symphonic Chorus: Languages I've sung in
See also: New Mexico Symphonic Chorus: schedule and reviews
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John W. Shipman,
Last updated: 2012/08/02 20:22:23