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Soloist Nina Frost, center, with members of the Rogue Valley Chorale. Photo by Michael D. David

Rogue Valley Chorale's 'Magnify' satisfies

The Rogue Valley Chorale celebrated the 2019 holiday season with “Magnify, the Words of Mary,” including both Bach and Schubert’s versions of “Magnificat” — works based on one of the most common Latin texts set to music in the Christian liturgy.

The concert last weekend was Michael Morris’ debut as artistic director of the chorale, and Bach’s “Magnificat” was a good test as conductor and choir learned to work together.

“The legacy of the chorale was founded on performing major works, so I based the original concept for the concert on the Bach “Magnificat,” Morris said. “I’ve always wanted to do a concert on that text, one of the hallmarks of the Christmas context.”

One or more soloists led each of the movements as the choir joined in interweaving and echoing the text. Performed in Latin, the music and vocal emotion, rather than the words, have impact for a contemporary audience. The earliest movements are slow and melancholic, a measured tempo of many voices, and at times the harpsichord and simple flute accompaniment are almost plaintive.

The progression of the “Magnificat” brings the chorus and soloists to “Gloria Patri,” a final movement that is glorious in praise and celebration.

While Bach’s “Magnificat” was composed as 12 movements, Franz Schubert’s “Magnificat” is three movements, about 10 minutes in length. Schubert’s “Magnificat” seemed stronger and fuller, opening with the chorus followed by “Deposuit potentes de sedes” performed by four soloists accompanied by tender and moving strings.

The final “Gloria Patri” was magnificent, as each Gloria reprise was magnified, broader, more joyous and echoed by the brass in celebration. The final amen to this “Magnificat” was perfectly executed, and the hush of the audience gave way to glad applause.

Janet O’Donovan, Pauline Sullivan, Dan Fowler, Shelly Cox-Thornhill and Terry Faulkner were soloists for Bach’s “Magnificat.” Jeffri Lynn Carrington, Cox-Thornhill, Phil Koenig and Eric Smith were soloists for Schubert’s “Magnificat.” The group’s 20-musician orchestra performed for the concert, Abigail Winensky as first violin and concertmaster and Mikiko Petrucelli as accompanist and harpsichordist.

Following the “Magnificat” works, the chorale performed several pieces that honor Mary in anticipation of the birth of her child. “Mary’s Little Boy Chile” was composed by Jester Hairston in 1956, with a calypso rhythm reflected in the voice and physical movements of both the soloists and the choir. “O Magnum Mysterium,” composed by Morten Lauridsen in 1994, was performed in Latin, a simple work describing the mystery of a blessed birth. Alto Sandy Walper performed the jazzy spiritual “Can You Hear the Angels?”

Morris invited the audience to sing several carols with the choir, commenting that it was a rare occasion when the community could sing accompanied by an orchestra.

Morris came to the Rogue Valley with a lifetime of experience in voice and performance and has served with chorale groups and on faculties throughout the country. As a baritone soloist, Morris has performed with Bay Area and Rogue Valley opera companies.

“Michael Morris brings excitement, energy, innovation and experience,” said bassist Eric Smith.

Rogue Valley philanthropist James Collier was present for the “Magnificat.”

“Tonight’s performance and every performance this season is sponsored by Jim Collier,” said Laura Rich, executive director of the Rogue Valley Chorale. “Not only is Jim sponsoring our season, but Jim has made a gift to the Rogue Valley Chorale that will sponsor our holiday concerts forever, in perpetuity.” The audience cheered and saluted Collier, high in the balcony.

Two spring concerts have been scheduled so far for the 2018-19 season. “Ethereal Moments” will be performed in late March, with a commissioned multimedia work by Joseph Julian Gonzalez, “Cantares Mexicanos,” based on Aztec poetry and spirituality. The music of Cole Porter will be performed in early May.

For information about the Rogue Valley Chorale, see roguevalleychorale.org.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

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