Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
The gala performance of the Diocesan Festival Choir in the Church of St Margaret, Liguanea, on Sunday has links to numerous long-gone, notable dates.
It took place in an extension to a chapel which was dedicated in June 1939 by the Lord Bishop of Jamaica. The old-fashioned, highly polished wooden pews and sturdy columns supporting the high ceiling attested to that fact.
The choir, formed in 1924, was created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Jamaica. The concert's opening item, Gabriel Faure's Requiem in D minor, Opus 48, the best known of his large works, was composed between 1887 and 1890.
Though the choir, which has about 40 members and includes singers from many other well-known groups - like the National Chorale, the NDTC Singers, the Jamaican Folk Singers and the Portmore Chorale - the patrons did not really warm to them until the concert's second half.
This is not surprising, for the brighter songs came then. The nearly 40-minute-long Requiem, which took up most of the first half, is a solemn, at times gloomy, work. Its theme is death, after all.
The more enjoyable of its seven movements were the two featuring the soloists. Janine Coombs (soprano) sang in the first of the two, Pie Jesu, and choir conductor Michael Sutherland (baritone) took leave from his conducting to sing in the second, Libera Me. Both singers have very expressive voices.
While the requiem as a whole is fairly mild in tone, Libera Me, originally written independently from the main work, reeks of fire and brimstone.
Happily, audiences don't realise this, unless they understand Latin. However, this translation of the movement was provided with the printed programme:
"Free me, Lord, from death eternal on that day of dread, when the heavens will be shaken and the earth, while you come to judge the world with fire. I am made to shake, and am afraid, awaiting the trial and the coming anger. That day, day of anger, of calamity and misery. That day, the day of great and exceeding bitterness."
Had the movement been sung in English, the children in the audience might well have had nightmares later. But then the cheerful, beautiful songs of the second half could have neutralised their terror.
With five works for which he composed the music, the famous English conductor-composer John Rutter was a favourite in the post-intermission line-up. His music was heard in the pieces, I Will Sing With the Spirit, For the Beauty of the Earth, All Things Bright and Beautiful, Beautiful River and The Lord Bless You and Keep You.
Jamaica's Noel Dexter, arguably the island's counterpart to Rutter, gave his music to Psalm 27 and Fly Away Home. Conga drumming was a feature of the arrangements. Ann Trouth accompanied most of the items on keyboard.
Most of the songs were up tempo, including the opening number, J Rosamond Johnson's Lift Every Voice and Sing. Another was the well-received South African song Shosholoza.
Because of a competing engagement, bandleader Albert Shaun Hird and members of the Jamaica Military Band, who were listed in the printed programme, were unavoidably absent.