Two cantatas on the crucifixion mounted for Easter
Over the Easter weekend, both the two-year old Jamaica Praise Chorale, founded by Ian Hird and Spanish Town's Cathedral Concert Choir, which organist Trevor Beckford has been leading for 55 years, staged cantatas based on the events leading up to and including Jesus' crucifixion.
The former group performed Rejoice! Di Messiah Lives on Thursday at the Bank of Jamaica, as one in the institution's monthly free lunch hour concerts. Composers of the new work are Hird, primarily, and chorale members Aldane Walker, Peta-Gaye Betty and Dr Camille Davidson.
The Cathedral Concert Choir, which sang at the St James Cathedral (also known as the Cathedral of St Jago de La Vega and Spanish Town Cathedral) on Good Friday evening, drew on several composers, though the main work presented was John Henry Maunder's Olivet to Calvary. Other composers sampled were Handel, Bach, Mendelssohn and Stainer.
The performances of the two choirs differed greatly in tone and execution. Rejoice! Di Messiah Lives, the Jamaica Praise Chorale's cantata, is, as the name suggests, a work with a strong Jamaican presence. Some of the pieces are written in Jamaican patois (or creole) and have a mento or reggae base.
Strains of pop and jazz also flavor the work, and after the show, Hird told The Gleaner, that he liked all forms of music and deliberately went for a musical fusion in the cantata.
There is a Jamaican feel to the performance, too. The performers were outfitted in colourful costumes which included bandanna material, and when they were singing, they often gestured to emphasise their message and bounced or swayed on the spot.
Only an excerpt of the cantata was offered on Thursday - the full work was scheduled for Easter Sunday at the Boulevard Baptist Church - but still, the excerpt contained more than 20 items and spilled over the allotted "lunch hour."
The Chorale's strong, clean sound is, unfortunately, not present in the Cathedral choir as a whole, though it is blessed with two excellent male singers, tenor Orville Manning and baritone Jomo Aikens. They turned out to be the stars of the evening and were often called on to sing.
When they did, their delivery was both powerful and textured, with the emotion the composer called for being clearly conveyed.
the main work
of the evening
The Maunder cantata, the main work of the evening, took up the entire second half of the programme, but selected items from Handel's Messiah, the world's most popular oratorio, occupied almost as much time in the first half.
Among the Messiah selections sung by Manning which the regrettably small audience liked were, Comfort Ye My People, Every Valley and Thou Shalt Break Them. Aikens did well with Mendelssohn's O Rest in the Lord, and Maunder's O Jerusalem, Crucify Him and, And When They Came to the Place, among other pieces.
Some of the quieter and less demanding items which the chorus sang nicely were Stainer's God So Loved the World, Bach's Receive Me My Redeemer and Be Near Me When Dying and the final item from the Maunder cantata, Droop Sacred Head.