Six love poems for mixed chorus and pianoforces: SSAATTBB Choir, Piano
published by: Composer
This work was commissioned for the Saint Louis Chamber Chorus by Bruce and Linda Ryder, in celebration of their long association with the choir. The world premiere was given on 11th February 2018 by the Saint Louis Chamber Chorus under the direction of Philip Barnes, with Lan Sin Lim Kimler, piano.
The texts are by William Shakespeare [1564-1616], Alice Meynell [1847-1922], Robert Herrick [1591-1674], Emily Dickinson [1830-1886], James Elroy Flecker [1884-1915] and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. [1806-1861].
For Sunday afternoon’s program [11th February 2018] at the 560 Music Center, “Love Dances”, the Saint Louis Chamber Chorus and artistic director Philip Barnes mixed it up.
Renowned for its superb a cappella singing, this time the choir was accompanied by piano for most of the concert. Barnes usually plays mix-and-match with compositions, arranging them on the program to complement or contrast with one another; this concert had just four works, three of them comprising several parts. One piece was accompanied by dancers.
One thing wasn’t unusual: The Chamber Chorus added another important new work to the choral repertoire. Francis Pott’s “Ardor Amoris (The Burning Heat of Love)” was commissioned by a couple with deep ties to the choir, Bruce and Linda Ryder. (He’s a longtime member of the second tenor section; she was the executive director for two decades until retiring last year.)
Intended to complement the first work on the program, the “Liebeslieder Waltzes,” op. 52, by Johannes Brahms, “Ardor” succeeds both at that and as a standalone piece. Pott set six poems in English, three by women, three by men: Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”), “Renouncement,” by Alice Meynell, Robert Herrick’s “To Electra,” Emily Dickinson’s “Wild Nights!,” “Stillness,” by James Elroy Flecker, and Sonnet 14 (from the Portuguese), by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
It’s a remarkable composition, innovative in the best ways. Pott demonstrated his first-rate understanding of good choral writing (and pianism), and provided a mix of moods, from yearning and ardor to lightness and melancholy to contentment. The lovely, intelligent final movement brought a satisfying resolution, and the whole contains a profound message about the nature of love. It received a solid first performance; the members of the choir seemed to enjoy themselves.
The program opened with the Brahms, a set of 18 folk-inspired settings of love songs by Georg Friedrich Daumer (1800-1875) for chorus and piano four hands. The “Liebeslieder” also rings the changes of love’s moods, but stays mostly on the lighter side; it was well-sung throughout.
Morten Lauridsens’s lovely “Les Chansons des Roses” filled out the first half. The first four of its five songs are a cappella; the piano accompanies the last, “Dirait-on.” The choir made the most of Lauridsen’s beautiful writing.
The second half began with the intriguing Agnus Dei from “MASS,” by Emma Lou Diemer (b. 1927), for chorus, two pianos and timpani. Barnes commissioned Washington University student Rachael Servello to create a dance for six of her fellow students, an interesting addition for this dance-themed season.
The excellent pianists were Lan Sim Lim Kimler, who performed in all four works, and Annette Burkhart, who played in the Brahms and the Diemer. The presence of a grand piano in the center of the stage blocked the view of the singers from much of the house, however, and was distracting; there were moments when the choir and piano weren’t completely together.
Sarah Bryan Miller – St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Monday 12 February 2018