By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The hard-working May Festival Chorus was center-stage Sunday for the third consecutive evening, this time for an intimate choral experience in the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington.
As a gift to director of choruses Robert Porco, the chorus commissioned and performed the world premiere of "All Things are Passing" by American composer Stephen Paulus, in honor of Porco's 15th anniversary with the festival.
Robert Porco, director of the May Festival Chorus, faces the audience during applause before conducting the chorus at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.
Steven M. Herpp/
With the choral director on the podium, it was a glowing premiere of a significant addition to the choral repertoire. The a cappella piece is a setting of a poem by St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th-century mystic. It began chant-like, and traveled gently through four repetitions of the text, with a prayerful ending on the words "God never changeth."
The composer's harmonies were simple but compelling; the chorus performed its poignant melodies and expansive climaxes with stirring spirit and assurance. The fourth time, the women sang repeating, bell-like octaves, while the men's voices moved in close harmonies below, a stunning effect.
The composer was present to accept the applause of the sold-out crowd.
One of the joys of this special concert is hearing varied choral repertoire in the jewel-like cathedral setting. For the remainder, the 140-voice chorus performed seven works in the English cathedral tradition.
The singers had a genuine quality that was quite moving in pieces such as Herbert Howells' "Like as the Hart Desireth the Waterbrooks," a Psalm setting composed during the London air raids of 1941.
Parry's "I was Glad," written for Edward VII's coronation, was an exultant contrast. Porco was attentive to balance and detail, inspiring luminous, clear textures.
To open, the May Festival Youth Chorus, led by James Bagwell, performed four pieces, including a beautifully executed "Tu es Petrus" by Palestrina.
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