In an emotionally stirring concert, Connecticut Master Chorale took a few pages from the American songbook in its performance on Saturday at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown. Selections included music from folk, gospel, nostalgic and patriotic genres in a melodic tribute to America. Music director and conductor Tina Johns Heidrich has a knack for harvesting new material as well as revisiting familiar tunes set to fresh arrangements. Where does she find all those songs (and all those singers)?
CMC was in fine form, merging well with a 25-piece orchestra that accompanied the 55 outstanding vocalists. But the real standout of the event was pianist Joseph Jacovino who soloed, provided solid accompaniments or sang in the bass section. It was a special treat to hear Jacovino play the piano solo version of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," deftly articulating with jazz phrasing, while remaining in total control of the enormously popular piece.
The concert began with "I Hear America Singing" by Andre J. Thomas, with a catchy rhythm that had the tubas adding some bounce on the bottom. New to my ears was "O America" by Brendan Graham & William Joseph, that had tenors blending in with the other sections with bone-chillingly gorgeous harmonies.
No offense to the orchestra, but the chorale is at its best a cappella, especially when it comes to gospel music. Moses Hogan's hard-charging arrangement of "The Battle of Jericho" had a few good bass licks. Soprano Michaele Taylor had a tender solo in "Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit." Bobby McFerrin's "The 23rd Psalm" filled the tabernacle with the simple, but effective hymn.
Trumpets and clip-clopping wooden blocks had the orchestra and vocalists galloping away in a tight rendition of "Hoe-Down" from Aaron Copland's ballet "Rodeo." Sandy Chadwick stepped down from the alto section to play acoustic guitar with the male singers in a dramatic rendering of "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miserables."
You can't go wrong with music from "Carousel" by Rogers & Hammerstein. "You'll Never Walk Alone" swelled up from basses, altos, tenors and sopranos for a heartwarming finale.
Turning to Woody Guthrie's dustbowl ballads, CMC sounded strong in James D. Ployar's upbeat arrangement of "This Land is Your Land." Jacovino was rolling up and down the keyboards for "Shenandoah," arranged by Mack Wilberg. The women sounded light as a feather in "Dirait-on" by Morten Lauridsen.
Heading down the home stretch, everyone was having fun with crowd pleaser "Chattanooga Choo Choo." Drums and trombones were cooking for Louis Prima's big band hit "Sing, Sing, Sing."
They ended with a salute to the veterans in "Armed Forces -- The Pride of America" with a medley of Sousa marches and a few patriotic tunes. For their encore, Heidrich conducted the audience singing "God Bless America." The concert was undeniably uplifting.
Jan Stribula is a freelance writer in Ridgefield; Janff@aol.com.