Chamber Singers Welcome Spring

A diverse program ranging from May Day Carols to spirituals, a guest singing ensemble, and a number of talented instrumentalists were all part of the Chautauqua Chamber Singers’ concert ”Welcome Spring.”

The performance took place Sunday evening, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, in Jamestown. The program was selected, prepared and conducted by Rebecca Ryan. The somewhat-smaller-than-usual chorus of Chamber Singers were joined by the Mercyhurst University Collegiate Singers. Performing with them were pianist Zac Ricker, clarinettist Janita Byars and cellist Marian Byard.

The 18 pieces of music on the program were divided into four subdivisions: Songs of Spring, Songs of the Earth, Songs of Love, and Songs of Renewal. Within these divisions, there was even more diversity. For example, amid the love song segment, choices ranged from the simple folk tune ”Waters Ripple and Flow,” which they sang in an arrangement by Deems Taylor, to ”Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye,” which is an Irish lament about a woman whose husband has gone off to war and returned so crippled and injured that his own wife barely recognizes him.

The parts of both groups were beautifully balanced. The sense of ensemble was almost universally good. All of the many soloists sang beautifully. The audience applauded enthusiastically, even offering a standing ovation, in mid-concert, to a piano solo by accompanist Zac Ricker, who performed ”Un Sospiro,” or ”A Sigh,” by Franz Liszt, a complicated and very technically demanding work from the composer’s ”Three Concert Etudes,” which requires an extremely fast, flowing background be maintained, while a fairly simple melody sings out over it, requiring both hands to change from background to melody and back again in an instant.

Another instrumental solo was the well known and very challenging ”Flight of the Bumblebee,” performed on clarinet by Janita Byars, accompanied by Ricker.

Other examples of diversity included two numbers sung only by the women, some works by one or the other of the groups by themselves, and some done by both groups, together. Another was an arrangement of ”To a Wild Rose,” arranged by Margaret Dryburgh, which the printed program explained was created while the arranger was a prisoner, during World War II, in a Japanese prison camp. Lacking any instruments, she created the work so that the singers make the typical sounds of an orchestra’s instruments by using their intonation and their singing of syllables, for the purpose of their sound and their rhythm.

The result of all this was an entertaining and instructive hour which seemed to please the audience greatly. The concert was the final one of the 2013-14 concert series of the Community Music Project.