Review by Barry Plaxen
WOODBOURNE, NY (June 8, 2015) – For the June 7, 2015, 3:00 p.m. “BachFest” performance in Cornwall-on-Hudson, the Hudson Valley Society for Music chose to include some music by a composer other than J.S. Bach. Also on June 7 at 3:00 p.m., Lincoln Center’s “Mostly Mozart” 2015 program was being prepared and will, as always, include music NOT by Mozart.
Why producers feel the necessity to be programmatically “non-exclusive” for a concert named for a composer sends a multiple-edged message to us all. “It needs some variety.” “Audiences like it.” “It’s good box-office.”. Etc. So, kudos to Sullivan County Community Chorus (SCCC) Director, Kevin Giroux, whose “A Forrest of Sound” concert held at the same date and time as those noted above, was a concert including “The Choral Music of Dan Forrest.” Nobody else. Period.
At the concert in the Immaculate Conception Church in Woodbourne, Giroux explained that he had had some hesitance about doing an all-Forrest program after choosing Forrest’s major work “Requiem for the Living” and then hearing one other recommended song. But his subsequent research into Forrest’s music revealed a number of imposing, short treasures, and “A Forrest of Sound” was born. And we, the audience, were treated to an afternoon of impressive, beautiful, stunning and majestic music.
Though composer Dan Forrest has written chamber and solo works for strings, piano, brass, wind band and organ, he is known mostly for his original choral music and his arrangements for hymns and folk songs. A glittering sample of some of the above comprised the first half of the afternoon, with “The Nightingale” immediately involving you in Forrest’s melodic, expressive, most-warm, and sumptuous sound(s), enhanced by David Fiedler’s exquisite violin playing which continued throughout the afternoon.
Five delicate, pleasing, flawless songs with individual musical, textural, cultural and emotional elements followed, with accompaniment by (mostly) SCCC’s pianist Keira Weyant. Trumpeter Matthew Weyant added his two hands for a 4-hand piano accompaniment, and there was one song from a text co-written by Mark Twain that was sung by SCCC’s small chamber choir. Musicians included strings, oboe & flute, harp, brass, organ and percussion players. There was even one audience-participation segment.
The second half of the program was Forrest’s masterwork, “Requiem for the Living”, a variant of the regular Catholic requiem, in its entirety.
This spectacular and striking work can be aligned with the softness and purity that can be descriptive of Faure’s Requiem, but Forrest does go Orff (sic) on a tangent for the Vanitas Vanitatum with pulsating, Gothic-like rhythms. Puccini-like qualities abound in the soprano solos, but, all in all, it is Forrest and his own unique “voice” which is foremost.
For Forrest’s dazzling Agnus Dei section, Giroux chose mezzo Elena Knight to sing the boy soprano solo, with little or no vibrato for that “pure” quality, juxtaposed by soprano soloist Rachel Kleinman-McCLure’s lyrical, vibrating adult quality. Similarly, in the Lux Aeterna, Grioux chose soprano Hope Jennings to sing the boy soprano solo with little or no vibrato, with Jennifer Edwards and her soaring soprano-tremolo juxtaposing – wonderful choices that were true to Forrest’s original intentions. SCCC president, tenor Louis Setren’s solo was sung with his usual deeply felt passion.
All three soloists, the chamber orchestra and organ (Boyd Herforth), the entire chorus, the guest student choraliers from the Roscoe and Tri-Valley school districts, and Maestro Giroux are to be thanked for bringing this great work to Sullivan County after Orange County music-lovers who witnessed the Classic Choral Society’s performance in 2014 suggested it to Giroux. I suspect that in a year or three, Forrest’s “Requiem” will be the most-performed choral work in the country.
Thanks also goes to the “Chamber Orchestra Sponsors,” the “Boosters and Friends of the Chorus,” and the program advertisers who truly helped make the splendiferous afternoon possible.