By Mary Elizabeth Nordstrom
Springvale, ME, 7 May 2010. A beautiful blend of crisp a cappella voices opened the program with Medieval music at 7:30 p.m. on the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society stage in Springvale on Friday night. The audience was immediately convinced that they were in for a treat, having been introduced to the quality sound that would pervade the entire evening’s program, regardless of period or genre. Credit goes to conductor Harold Stover who has been developing this chorus of auditioned professional and highly talented amateur voices since 2001. Also an organist, Stover must have had a sense of playing the four parts with the motion of his hands as director, being well-pleased with the precise vocal response.
Renaissance Voices specializes in medieval music through the 17th century, but their programs also feature a variety of selections from other periods, this time ending with a nod to 20th century music from “The Great American Songbook” arranged by Kirby Shaw:”The Way You Look Tonight”, Jerome Kern (1885-1945), “Our Love is Here to Stay”, George Gershwin (1898-1937). Before the final program piece, “My Funny Valentine”, Richard Rodgers, (1902-1979) there was a dramatic reading by Larry Jackson, entitled “Nightclub” by Billy Collins (b1941). “Our programs always contain readings,” said Harold Stover when, as a part-time poet, I thanked him for his salute to National Poetry Month.
It turns out that there are rather fine writers in this vocal organization who were able to translate the lyrics of the French and German songs on the program to a more contemporary idiomatic usage. Not only can they sing and translate: the several writers read extremely well, so as to set a new benchmark for poets who read their own works at open mikes. Stover is clever to get them involved in developing a multi-media concept for his programs.
He is also very astute in program building in order to keep similar period music interesting. The first section was made up of four songs by Thomas Weelkes (1575-1632). Distinctly different from the afore-mentioned crisp evenly blended opener, the second featured well-pronounced men’s voices rising over the women’s; the third, was for women’s voice parts only; and the last burst forth with a forte SATB.
The 200th anniversary of the birth of Robert Schumann, (1810-1856) was celebrated with the inclusion of some of his seldom heard choral music. There were eight songs, during which the clarity of German diction was notable, as they sang Von Schlaraffland, text by A. H. H. von Fallersleben. In “Der Traumende See”, dynamic contrasts were impressive. While it was pleasant to follow the German words on the program, it was delightful to ponder the changes the participating artists had made and read so delightfully! Little things like “Off to candy land you go” instead of: “Come, let us now go to the land of milk and honey”, and “You don’t have to lift a finger” substituted for “No one is allowed to toil or bend to lift anything.”
They sang in French following intermission, “Six Songs on Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke” (1875-1926) set to music by Paul Hindemith (1895-1964) An audience member marveled to me during Intermission that Hindemith who had sought refuge in the United States leaving Germany in the early 1930s before the deep trouble came, had chosen to set to music the French words by Rainer Rilke, a German poet who had settled in Switzerland. The spell-binding selections from English, German, French, and on to the final group of 20th century American popular songs all lent themselves to precise dynamic a cappella treatment that distinguishes Renaissance Voices.
They earned an encore. After mentioning that the program will be repeated twice in the near future, Stover announced that if he didn’t see the audience again at one of them, then he turned and the chorus broke into “I’ll Be Seeing You in All the Old Familiar Places.” There wasn’t a quiet heart among the octogenarians in the audience who had sung or listened to that song in the Forties during WWII!