Conductor and Music Director Malcolm J. Merriweather created the “French Fête” program to “celebrate the legacy of French composers from the early 20th century on.” The program began with a soft, breathy rendition of “Hymne au soleil” by Lili Boulanger, who was the first woman to receive the Prix de Rome prize in 1913, as Merriweather states in his program notes.
Merriweather conducted the surprising twists and turns with gusto.
The chorus hit their stride with Claude Debussy’s “Trois chansons de Charles Orléans,” featuring soloist Marissa Coté’s gorgeous, sustained vibrato backed by the perfectly balanced ensemble. In the third movement, “Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain,” the conductor demonstrated a skillful use of dynamics with a gradually earned crescendo supported by the bass section and topped with an appropriately light soprano.
Pianist Steven Ryan was the true highlight of the program. Celebrating his 20 years of dedication to the choir, Ryan was highlighted both in the program and in person. His technically flawless solo performance of “Ondine” from “Gaspard de la Nuit” featured a simple, fluttering intro with a steadily sustained build, demonstrating the brilliance of the piece with slow, reverent expression.
His following choice was “Toccata” from “Trois Pièces,” another effortlessly executed delight from the fully engrossed musician. Both from memory, Ryan established both his musical skill and vivid passion.
The choir returned for the final piece, Jean Langlais’s “Messe solennelle,” Op. 67. The pieces within ranged from minor imploring to worshipful reverberation. Raymond Nagem’s organ was featured in much dramatic call and response throughout the work.
In the final section, “Agnus Dei,” the eerie evolution of harmony began with the ideally equalized men, layering climatically with the delicate female voices. Merriweather conducted the surprising twists and turns with gusto. The reverent afternoon warmly advocated the musical devotion of the Choir, the director, and its audience.
Running Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
The Dessoff Choirs performed “French Fête” on Sunday, February 26, 2017 at the St. Jean Baptiste Church in New York, NY. For more information on this event, click here.