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Impressive performance by the Arkansas Chamber Singers

By Eric E. Harrison

This article was published March 17, 2018 at 3:30 a.m.

There was plenty of joyful singing going on at Friday night's Arkansas Chamber Singers season closer at Little Rock’s St. James United Methodist Church.

The Chamber Singers, with John Erwin on the podium and a dozen-plus members of the Arkansas Symphony gave a superb performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Coronation” Mass, K.317.

It's one of the composer's sunniest pieces of church music — the C major key signature makes it easy to restrict any kind of gloominess or even hush to the short portions of the "Credo" that involve incarnation and crucifixion — and the singers gave it full magnitude.

A super quartet of soloists with church-filling voices — Maria Fasciano, soprano; Marisa Colon, alto; Matthew Newman, tenor; and Stephen Edds, bass — made up almost a mini-choir during their passages, with a fine blend and balance.

I initially saw the second half of the short program (the "interval" that turned into a full-length intermission plus the introduction of two scholarship winners took longer than either half of music) as filler, but the two pieces by 20th-21st century composer Ola Gjeilo turned out to be equally impressive.

Serenity, which Gjeilo set using the text of O Magnum Mysterium, was simply gorgeous, with rich vocal harmonies atop an obbligato cello (played most beautifully by ASO principal David Gerstein). And Song of the Universal, with a text excerpted from Walt Whitman's poem of the same name and a piano added to an 11-piece string orchestra, soared gloriously.

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