Dallas — Led by Artistic Director Donald Krehbiel, the Orpheus Chamber Singers gave a moving performance of music spanning a wide array of styles on Sunday evening at Dallas City Performance Hall. It is hard to find a more refined and intentional sound than that made by this ensemble—a sound that is always gorgeous. Yet it does not betray the expressive demands of music.
J.S. Bach’s Singet dem Herrn BWV 225 started the evening. Their brisk pace muddled a bit of the text, especially in the fugal section, but an overarching form was intelligible. Bach divides the choral forces into a double choir, increasing both the intricacies as well as the difficulties in maintaining line and direction. Krehbiel managed admirably to keep the work from flying out of control even at the quick tempo. Grady Coyle at the continuo organ and Eric Smith on the cello provided a supportive yet unobtrusive basso continuo.
Morten Lauridsen’s atmospheric Nocturnes (2005) was meant for the sound this ensemble produces. Its four movements are settings of texts from Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda, and James Agee, all depicting the night in various figurative states. The deliberate dynamic planning along with superb balance allowed the texts of this work to soak into rather than impose on the audience’s ears.
The first half was filled out by a contrasting set of pieces consisting of the Parker-Shaw arrangement of the African-American Spiritual “My God is a Rock” and two Stephen Foster tunes, “Gentle Annie” and “Camptown Races.” The contrast of these pieces against the Bach and Lauridsen was huge but effective. Again, the wonderful sound from the ensemble was flexible enough to give these lighter works their expressive potential.
The second half of the program was devoted to the lovely Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 52a of Johannes Brahms. This is a heavy work which can in some performances drag on beyond the attention spans of even the musicians. This evening’s rendition was varied, colorful, and seemed to go by very fast. The 18 pieces setting texts by Georg Friedrich Daumer are humorous, tragic, and whimsical but always attractive. The piano part for two pianists is dense, but aside from the occasional imbalance with the singing, pianists Catherine Lysinger and Liudmila Georgievskaya produced a solid and often beautiful accompaniment. Soloists Laura Warringer on Wohl schoen bewandt and Del Howard on Nicht wandle, mein Licht were no less warm in these movements than when integrated into the ensemble.
The overall impression of the performance was refreshing; it was an excellent mix of old and new, light and dark. No part of the program wanted to drag or diminish in its intensity. The excellent program notes and texts, although slightly difficult to read in the dim lighting, added significantly to experience.
For an encore, Farmer’s English madrigal “Fair Phyllis” gave the audience a bit of inspiration for their late evening activities.