This review was originally published on theScen3.org on April 4, 2022
Thomas Morgan put it succinctly in his program notes for a recent concert by Ars Nova Singers. “Everything feels fragile right now,” the chamber choir’s artistic director wrote. And so it does. Appropriately, the group’s evening of uplifting music was titled “Made Fragile,” offered before a sizable and appreciative audience gathered in Denver’s Central Presbyterian Church on Friday, April 1.
The venerable church is in the midst of a major remodel – no surprise for a building dating back 130 years. Introducing Fauré’s glorious Requiem, the concert’s major work, Morgan pointed out to his listeners that Central Pres (as it is known) was a contemporary of that timeless sacred work of 1890. Fragility aside, the unfolding performance resonated with confidence and reassuring strength in the conductor’s hands, as he led the Singers and a terrific chamber orchestra, led by violist Matthew Dane, in music that has never failed to soothe through more than a century.
The work’s two attention-grabbing opening unison notes signaled the start of an emotional journey through grief and relief, from a plea for eternal rest to a welcome-home in the next world from the angels. Considering the current unsettled state of the present world, Ars Nova’s gentle message of peace rang out with clarity and hope, thanks to the group’s impeccable singing, Morgan’s sensitive conducting and the marvelous acoustics of the church’s spacious nave.
Supported lovingly by the string section, the Offertorium soared, lifted by a fine Hostias et preces by the talented CU-based baritone O’Neil Jones, who returned later in the Libera me. Following a heavenly (pun intended) Sanctus, enhanced by harpist Kathryn Harms and violinist Michael Brook’s gorgeous solos, the popular, eagerly awaited Pie Jesu was given to Magdalena Kadula, a senior at Tara Performing Arts High School in Boulder. She was selected from 13 area students through an audition process. Possessing a sweet, well-trained light soprano, Kadula shows great promise as her voice and confidence continue to grow.
Throughout the remainder of the Fauré, Morgan and company reminded listeners of the work’s unending beauty and its undying tenderness. A perfect repertory choice for these unsettled times. Praise also to organist (and respected Ars Nova bass) Brian du Fresne, seated way in the back.