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Kansas City Chorale finds beauty in ‘Darkness and Light’

At a concert titled “Darkness and Light,” the Kansas City Chorale explored those themes and their attendant realities — life and death, hope and longing, promise and loss — Sunday afternoon at Redemptorist Church.

This was perhaps a typical performance for maestro Charles Bruffy and his 24 colleagues — reporting for duty at the very first bar and singing with beautiful phrasing throughout.

Four of the 11 works were world premieres, two by local composers. Two other works received their Midwest premiere.

Kansas City native Gregory Gagnon’s “Continuities” was this year’s winner in an annual choral music competition sponsored by UMKC and the Chorale.

Set to a late Walt Whitman poem, Gagnon’s choral writing exhibits a refreshing maturity of spirit for a man in his 20s.

The Chorale also gave the world premiere of two of the three parts of local composer Jean Belmont Ford’s “The Book of Pictures,” inspired by Rainer Maria von Rilke’s poetry and sung in English and German.

Ford’s later output doesn’t always sparkle with the originality and verisimilitude of her earlier work. But the chorus, in Bruffy’s words, truly put “its heart and heart and heart and heart” into this performance.

This commitment was typified by the work of tenor soloist Frank Fleschner, which helped bring forth the undoubted pleasures in Ford’s music.

The chorus also gave Elizabeth Alexander’s “Shelter This Candle” its world premiere. This 2007 work yokes a somber Edna St. Vincent Millay poem to gentle, ethereal music that leaves one feeling inspired and peaceful.

Millay wrote about two women, and Michelle Roueche’s “Lux Eterna” is written with a certain flourish for women’s voices only — a flourish typified by soprano Pamela Williamson’s solo performance.

Other premiered works included “Elevation Morceau” set for double quartet by Los Angeles punk rocker Nick Norton, the youngest composer on the program. Sung in French to a text by Baudelaire, it’s about escaping “all the grime and muck that can weigh you down in your life,” in Norton’s words.

The emotional atmosphere of this interesting, difficult music resembles that of Carlos Surinach’s “Noche Oscura del Alma,” especially in Surinach’s vivacious conclusion to a graceful andante first half.

The chorale sang an arrangement of “Let the Heaven Light Shine on Me,” in honor of the late Moses Hogan, and concluded the program with a Mark Brymer arrangement of “Waiting for the Light to Shine” by the late, and underrated, tunesmith Roger Miller of “King of the Road” fame.

The program’s emotional highlights started with the opening work — Morten Lauridsen’s “Sure on This Shining Light,” and continued in the second half with his Canadian contemporary Imant Raminsh’s “In the Night We Shall Go In” and Samuel Barber’s 1936 Adagio for Strings.

All three of these beautiful, uplifting works are balm for the soul when performed with the chorale’s wonderful phrasing and tonal control, as they were Sunday afternoon.


Encore

This concert repeats at 7:30 tonight at Asbury United Methodist Church, 75th and Nall, Prairie Village. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door ($17 and $20 for seniors). Call 816-235-6222 or go to www.kcchorale.org.

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