Reflecting the Inaugural Season

Jun 06, 2018

A popular BBC program since the 1940’s has been “Desert Island Discs”, a show that asks its participants to make a tough decision by choosing a select few recordings, a book, and a luxury item to spend the rest of their lives with.  In this concept you are allowed 8 albums, no more than you can easily carry, if you were to be stranded on a desert island for an extended period of time (for the sake of optimism, let’s assume that the length of stay was not indefinite).  These are albums you simply cannot live without!  Popular answers are of course Beatles albums, Rolling Stones, perhaps von Karajan recordings of some classic German repertoire, John Williams, or Fleetwood Mac.   Sir Simon Rattle chose a number of albums, including a recording of Mahler’s 9th Symphony and a Joni Mitchell recording.  Kelsey Grammar chose Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, and Beethoven 7. 

I am overwhelmed by the daunting decision of bringing only an armload of recordings on my marooned island prison, but I would have to start with the Berlin Philharmonic’s recording of Mahler 2, Queen’s Greatest Hits, Susan Enan’s debut album, and the Monteverdi Choir recording of Handel’s Messiah.

In many ways, this past season at Baltimore Choral Arts has been an extension of my own list of “Desert Island Discs”.  The two works we performed that stand out the most to meare Handel’s “Dixit Dominus” and Duruflé’s “Requiem”.  If I am ever the victim of a choir mutiny and am placed forcibly on an island, “Dixit Dominus” would be a must-have.  It is a ferociously fast piece with dexterity and virtuosity that are unmatched by any other choral work by Handel.  The composer was a young man when he penned this intense piece and one can hear the marriage of dark German Baroque textures and the gestural, gold-inlay of the Italian school that he so admired.  Choral Arts really gave an astoundingly sturdy performance of this piece in October.  In complete and utter contrast, Maurice Duruflé’s piety and true expertise in liturgy shines through in the plainchant based Requiem mass.  The introspectively spiritual setting is steeped in ancient tradition due to the composer’s love for and knowledge in chant singing – indeed, many times the melody is a direct quotation from the chant with the composer’s Dupré and Messieaen flavored harmonies enlivening the melody and adding a thick and satisfying texture.  In May, Baltimore Choral Arts gave a heartfelt and truly transcendent reading of the piece in a stunning venue.  This was a performance to remember.

The rest of the season would make my “Desert Island Disc” list as well – Beethoven’s famed 9th Symphony brings me to a heavenly place each time I hear it.  Choral Arts is certainly no stranger to this piece and performed it to an expert degree with the Peabody Youth Orchestra.  Christmas with Choral Arts brought many classic holiday favorites, and our Sing-along Messiah performance reminded me that the piece is on my “must-have” list.  Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” is hard to ignore, as are English anthems such as Parry’s “I Was Glad” – my survival raft is getting full. 

My first season here at Choral Arts was one for the books, and I am so glad we performed so many stalwart works from the backbone of the choral repertoire.  This “Desert Island Discs” theme looks to be continuing as we head into next season with pieces such as the Brahms Requiem and a Mendelssohn cantata.  I cannot wait to share these works as well as less familiar pieces with you next year.  Until then, think about what your top 10 albums would be if you had to save them from a watery end.  I hope that we at Choral Arts have given you some new suggestions!