Friday, April 18, 2014

First Congregational Church presents "The Seven Last Words of Christ"

A rare Good Friday performance of Théodor Dubois' oratorio Les Sept Paroles du Christ (1867) was dedicated to the memory of George and Jean Hove by their daughters, thus concluding the free Friday Lenten Concert series at Elgin's First Congregational Church.

The church's own Chancel Choir, directed by FCC Music Director Jon Warfel, was accompanied by an ensemble of instrumentalists and vocal soloists in delivering an excellent 50-minute program in the historic church sanctuary.

Baritone Bradley Morrison gave skilled and compelling performances in numerous solos throughout the eight movement work, joined with excellent solos from Tenor Brian Mengler and Soprano Sally Szudy. The dedication of the twenty-member choir was evident from their performance — the stirring choruses of "The Fifth Word" were especially well intoned and synchronized.

FCC Chancel Choir and Chamber Orchestra perform
"The Seven Last Words of Christ"
A favorable acoustic environment, comfortable seats and clear visibility can make a good concert into a great experience, and First Congregational's interior provides all of these. The fine singing and the room's resonance combined to make the English lyrics, translated by Theodore Baker, easy to understand.

The contributions of the Church to the advancement of western music in all forms cannot be underestimated, and art of this quality and sincerity truly honor the Creator of the "universal language." The music programming of FCC is a great asset to Elgin and a blessing to listeners. Learn more at

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Elgin Symphony Presents a Concert of Understated Excellence

A superb program of Nielsen and Dvorak did all the talking in a casual but outstanding Elgin Symphony matinee Sunday, featuring guest conductor José Luis Gomez.

Two works by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen were heard for the first time by ESO audiences. An orchestra of larger proportions leapt into the first, an opening overture from Nielsen's opera Maskarade (1906) led by a vibrant maestro Gomez, whose natural yet precise conducting ended with a smiling and flamboyant turn toward the audience.

José Luis Gomez conducts Carter Brey and the Elgin
Symphony Orchestra.
Joining the orchestra for Antonin Dvorak's Concerto in B Minor for Cello and Orchestra (1896) was Carter Brey, principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic. Brey listened intently and turned to look at the other players during the first movement's opening, which lifted the entire audience's consciousness of this beautifully played work. 

Shifting fluidly from growling lows to sweetly lyrical highs, Brey displayed great rapport with Gomez, and also with a particularly sympathetic wind section, playing so expressively throughout that one listener was moved to say, "I could almost understand the words ..." Brey's untucked shirt and relaxed comportment signalled that this virtuoso's performance would speak for itself, and it did so eloquently. 

The delightful Symphony No. 2 (1902) is one of Nielsen's growing number of works that are gaining new interest worldwide. The four movements, inspired by the Four Temperaments of ancient psychology, depart from classical symphonic conventions and explore shades of human nature the way a Freudian therapist might: through a network of imagery and associations. 

The ESO was incredibly well-rehearsed for this Elgin premiere, and the musical language of Nielsen proved to be endlessly fascinating. It was an impressive showing for Gomez, whose conducting style exhibited its own four-way humanistic balance of head, hands, heart and hips.

It is also a credit to the considerable talent and skill of the ESO and staff that guest artists of this caliber continue to bring their world-class performances to downtown Elgin.