28 March 1998 “Benedictio”

R. M. Campbell, Music Critic, Seattle P-I, March, 1998

Music Review

Opus 7’s Lenten concert a rich one

Opus 7, the suburb a cappella vocal ensemble in residence at St. James Cathedral, often ties its programs to significant events in the Christian calendar.

The program at St. James . . . ranged all over the Western universe, with Ave Marias, for instance, by Bruckner, Stravinsky, Verdi and Holst.

In addition to a fascinating program of considerable breadth, Opus, capably led by its director Loren Pontén, sang with its customary polish, handsome balance and keen sense of pitch.

C. Hubert H. Parry’s “My Soul, There Is a Countrie,” opened the concert. Immediately, one could hear the beautifully clear, perfect blend of human voices. The noble sound admirably crafted by Pontén, drifted through the cathedral.

In drafting the program, Pontén not only wanted to call attention to the musical richness inspired by Lent but to draw attention to the similarities and differences of those riches. Carlo Gesualdo, from the High Renaissance of Italy to 37-year old Urmas Sisask, from Estonia, were the chronological bookends of the concert.

In between there were major musical lights such as Orlando Gibbons, Zoltán Kodály, Karol Szymanowski, Charles Ives and Franz Lizst.

The four Ave Marias were among the most intriguing works of the evening in part because they were so unrepresentative of the composers who wrote them, especially the Bruckner and Verdi. Among the most striking moments of the night was Ives’ “Serenity,” in which Opus sang from the organ loft and the solo piano (Matthew Wilkins) was at the opposite end of the church. How beautiful, how haunting.

John Muehleisen’s “The King of Glory,” a highly effective and sometimes moving work, was given its premiere in an excellent performance.

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