San Diego Summer Choral Festival Vocalists Shine in Pacific Beach

Following the customs of the San Diego Summer Choral Festival, Artistic Director Patrick Walders presented his faculty in a joint recital Thursday (August 3) at St. Andrew’s-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Pacific Beach. Their eclectic vocal repertory encompassed Romantic art song, Monteverdi madrigals, Edwardian motet, as well as American country music and music theater. And each genre was approached with impressive stylistic authenticity and a fair amount of vocal opulence.

Patrick Walders [photo courtesy of the artist]

Angela Schmucker, whose creamy mezzo-soprano has become an indispensable asset in Bach Collegium San Diego’s Baroque concerts, demonstrated her versatility by dramatically shaping the arched lines of Brahms” lied “From Where the Upland Towers” and then expressing more overtly anguished drama in her portion of the duet from Miss Saigon, “I Still Believe,” assisted by soprano Katie Walders.

In Shawn Kirchner’s country ballad “You Don’t Have to Listen, Just Dance,” Schmucker poured on the Grand Ole Opry charm and waltzed through this ingratiating piece with ease. Jennifer Pollito offered one of Franz Joseph Haydn’s lively English songs, “The Mermaid’s Song” with text by Anne Hunter, the perfect vehicle for Pollito’s sparkling, clearly focused soprano. Maria Didur provided authoritative, rippling piano accompaniments for the Haydn, Brahms, and Miss Saigon songs.

Ensemble a cappella works fared best in the very live acoustics of the modernist Pacific Beach church sanctuary. A five-voice arrangement of Claudio Monteverdi’s celebrated aria “Lasciatemi morire” suavely navigated its rich, chromatic harmonies. Pollito, Schmucker, tenor Luke Frels, baritone Paul Young, Jr., and bass Patrick Walders gave Monteverdi his deft due. The same ensemble gave British composer Herbert Howells’ sacred motet “The Little Door” an equally nuanced account.

Works by the festival’s composer in residence, Shawn Kirchner, rounded out the program. His quiet ballad, “Hummingbird,” would have nestled comfortably in a sophisticated 1950s piano lounge, and the composer’s own light tenor croon channeled the nonchalance of the late Blossom Dearie. The unabashed bluegrass progressions of his rousing, hopeful anthem “I’ll Be on My Way” united the vocalists and several guest instrumentalists–with the composer at the piano–in a fitting culmination of the evening’s program.

This concert was part of the Pro Arte Voices San Diego Summer Choral Festival, presented on August 3, 2017, at St. Andrew’s-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, 1050 Thomas Ave., San Diego. A final choral performance is scheduled for Friday, August 4, in the same venue featuring choral works by Edward Elgar, composer-in-residence Shawn Kirchner, and contemporary Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds.

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