Daily Gazette – MUSIC REVIEW: Saratoga Voices soar in final concert of season

By Geraldine Freeman | May 14, 2023

Saratoga Voices gave their last concert of the season Saturday afternoon at Arthur Zankel Hall at Skidmore College with a program of very serious music that contrasted with the beautiful spring day.

Perhaps to lighten the mood, guest conductor Michael Lister changed the order of the program to two very beautiful works by Gabriel Faure. Up first was his “Pavane” (1887), which is famous for its orchestral arrangement. But here, the

60-voice chorus and the 44-piece orchestra got to do the entire thing, which was sung in French.

Opening with the famous low flute solo, the orchestra sounded mellow in the sensuous and lyrical music as the voices slowly entered floating above the orchestra. It was all very ravishing and a perfect introduction to the concert.

This was followed by Faure’s “Cantique de Jean Racine” (1865), which this time opened with a soaring orchestra before the voices joined in a beautiful blend. Lister paced the work well; the chorus also was well balanced and the vocal ranges seemed comfortably placed.

But Francis Poulenc’s “Gloria” (1959) was another matter. It was longer, in Latin, and featured notable soprano soloist Carla Fisk in three of the six segments. It opened with a big brassy orchestra. Pitch was a little off and the chorus seemed hesitant. The music was almost abstract, with syncopation, percussive moments, playful segments, colorful textures, and a louder chorus.

Fisk soared above the bigger sound, darker harmonies and lines that were almost like cries of pain. She said later that the part was very “acrobatic” as it leaped from low to high ranges in a flash and that balancing her part against “crunchy” chords was a bit challenging.

The orchestra generally sounded good and the chorus was on cue. Many times Fisk would sing a phrase and the chorus would respond. Those sections, which were mostly in the “Domine Deus, Agnus Dei” and “Qui Sedes”  toward the end, were mysterious, almost exotic with a beautiful melody. Very contrasting from the rest of the work. The final segment especially had unpredictable rhythms and a lot of brass but then slowly became ruminative and appealing with Fisk high against a quiet orchestra.

After intermission, was Maurice Durufle’s “Requiem” (1865) in the full orchestra version and sung in Latin. Baritone Woodrow Bynum and soprano Elizabeth Cohen sang in a few segments. Opening in peaceful harmonies with the voices floating above, it moved to more dramatic moments in the “Kyrie eleison” in which Bynum’s dark-tone voice dramatically intoned about the darkness and Hell. Later, Cohen soloed only with a lone cello in a sensational “Pie Jesu.” Her gorgeous voice soared in dramatic and rich tones.

After a few more peaceful segments, Bynum returned to make a few statements about judgment. Brass set the tone for a big orchestra and chorus before the orchestration lightened up with comfortable harmonies to the end.

About 200 people were in attendance, which was considered a good number considering that the weekend had Mother’s Day and a Skidmore graduation.