‘The First Rose Of Summer’

Summer has only just begun, for this year, but already a concert in Jamestown has celebrated ”The First Rose of Summer.”

The Erie Renaissance Singers is a small ensemble of only 12 singers, each of whom is qualified to sing professional-quality solos, but together, they make a smooth, technically excellent sound which resounded beautifully in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Sunday afternoon.

Although the ensemble is based in Erie, fully one-third of the singers are year-round residents of Chautauqua County. The group has been making springtime visits to our area, but since the recent retirement of their founding director, Carolyn Brock, they were alternately conducted by Steven Woods and Patrick Rose. Discussion is still underway regarding the organization’s future. We can only hope that despite the excellent singing groups already located in our area, they will continue to bring their wonderful sound for us to enjoy.

Despite the organization’s name, the Renaissance Singers don’t limit themselves to music written during the historic Renaissance, which took place approximately between 1350 and 1550. They began with an anonymous selection from roughly 1280 to two works composed by living musicians born in the mid-20th century.

The program included 11 different works, which the singers had divided into eight segments. Some works were jolly, like ”Fair Phyllis I Saw,” from the 16th century. Some were dramatic, such as ”Entreat Me Not to Leave You,” taken from the words of Ruth, in the Old Testament, by contemporary Daniel Forrest. Some were familiar, such as Randall Thompson’s much beloved ”Alleluia.”

Some were just plain gorgeous, like ”Sweet and Low,” by 19th century composer Joseph Barnby.

The balance was virtually perfect, throughout the concert. Even when composers had written for two complete antiphonal choirs, meaning many individual singers were singing their entire voice part, solo, that balance remained intact.

The singers completely overcame a number of handicaps to the effect of their performance. By the end of the performance, it had begun to seem as though every resident of Jamestown who was not in the audience, had decided to drive past the beautiful church’s open doors and windows, with either a siren blaring, or with an engine which had never made the acquaintance of a muffler.

Seemingly with the best of intentions, the audience chose to ignore a request printed in the program, that they only applaud at the end of a segment of the program and not after each work. In several cases, enthusiastic and long-lasting applause came in the middle of a piece of music, between movements.

Despite these negative influences, the audience seemed to be truly moved and completely involved in the music.

The afternoon sun, pouring through the exquisite stained glass windows of the church and bathing the sanctuary in flame reds and regal blues was a work of art, in itself.

All of the works on the program were performed without accompaniment, except ”Two Songs from Les Chansons des Roses,” by Morten Lauridsen, which were supported by pianist Lily Li.