Music, Review, Vocal music

“Eternity” explores the riches of choral and orchestral music

A review by Ruth L. Carver

March 21-22, 2014, the Musica Sacra Chamber Orchestra joined with choral group Kantorei for a delightfully programmed evening entitled “Eternity.” Continuing its exploration of themes related to time, the MSCO consistently mixes familiar and obscure works, new and old, in a relaxed atmosphere. Conductor David Rutherford brings a friendly ease to concert proceedings, and in this program, showcased the diverse talents of his chamber orchestra and their full sound potential. Combining with the full yet blended sound of Kantorei under Interim Director Sarah Harrison, the choral and orchestral music produced on this evening was a fascinating blend of styles. The groups were joined by Harrison’s women’s choir from Cherry Creek High School, the Choralaires. The mix of music effectively explored many aspects of eternity and how humans interact with it.

David Rutherford

David Rutherford

The evening began with Rutherford conducting his orchestra in Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question (1906), a crash-course in Ives’ signature style in which he collages and sometimes crashes disparate musical elements together.  Bruce Hulej’s elegant solo trumpet asked a timeless (but unnamed) question about existence, as the strings created a slower, grander scale of hushed sound.  The woodwinds burst in suddenly at moments, jabbering away before being shushed again.  The group gave an excellent reading of this difficult and somewhat inscrutable piece, and it was a perfect start to the program that explored larger issues of life and death as they relate to eternity.

Sarah Harrison, Interim Conductor

Sarah Harrison, Interim Conductor

Harrison conducted the next offering, John Muehleisen’s Snow (The King’s Trumpeter), which also made use of Hulej’s solo trumpet. It was an interesting if not very memorable piece, and the choir created appropriately chilling overtones as they blended a uniform vowel on the opening “snow.” The acoustics at Bethany Lutheran Church produced a pleasant, ringing wash of sound. The Choralaires then turned the theme toward the hereafter as they sang a lovely rendition of Walter Hawkins’ I’m Goin’ Up a-Yonder.

A rarely heard cantata by Danish composer Carl Nielsen followed. Composed in 1922, Springtime in Funen extols the natural beauty of the island Nielsen was raised on, and the beauty of life itself. Lilting and melodic, each movement was full of interesting textures, and allowed both choir and orchestra to explore Nielsen’s folksy and nationalistic flourishes.  The balance between vocal soloists and orchestra was occasionally uneven, with the orchestra brandishing a wonderfully confident sound, but Wendi Sue Grover, Justin Kerr, and Andrew Halladay all did a lovely job with their solos.  The fourth movement, “De Gamle” (“The Old Folk”) really showed of the depth and richness of Kantorei’s male voices. This is a work that would definitely benefit from a performance in a larger space, allowing the cheerful themes to fully bloom.

The second half of the program began with the familiar theme of Edward Elgar’s Nimrod variation from the Enigma Variations, as transformed into his choral piece Lux aeterna. Harrison brought out stunning, beautiful lines from the choir.  The sopranos sounded perhaps slightly restrained, but it was an effective and gorgeous precursor to the final work of the night: Morton Lauridsen’s Lux aeterna.

Musica Sacra casual - David Rutherford

Musica Sacra casual




It was the Lauridsen Lux aeterna (1997) that brought down the house in the end. The composer has a special gift for creating richly textured harmonies layered over a distinctive yet simple melodic theme, and these simple, chant-like themes return again and again throughout the movements of this work.  He achieves a sense of vast space in the opening string entrance, followed by a stunningly beautiful a cappella choral entrance. Combining textual elements of the Requiem mass with the Lux aeterna text, this work allows comparison with some of the other great Requiems in classical music.  It certainly does not achieve the complexity and mastery of Brahms or Mozart, but it offers modern listeners a simplicity and immediacy that is hard to escape.  This work has been performed often since its completion, but rarely with its full orchestration.  The richness of the instrumentation does much to support the vocal harmonies, and the performance by MSCO and Kantorei, conducted by Rutherford, was exceptionally fine.  This was an elegant and eloquent conclusion to this exploration of eternity and humanity’s relation to it, and both groups won new fans in this beautiful program.

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  1. Kantorei and MSCO "Exceptionally Fine" in performance of 'Lux Aeterna' - kantorei - July 9, 2015

    […] Kantorei joined Musica Sacra Chamber Orchestra in March for ‘Eternity,’ a thematic program featuring each ensemble along with the Cherry Creek High School Choralaires. The program wove its way through several perspectives of eternity, incorporating both the human perspective and the spiritual. The evening concluded with the music of American composer Morten Lauridsen, whose ‘Lux Aeterna’ “brought down the house”, according to reviewer Ruth Carver. […]

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