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Audience rewarded by performance of Antietam Women's Ensemble

Polonchack, Renninger raise choir's repertoire to new level

Polonchack, Renninger raise choir's repertoire to new level

December 07, 2007|By HARRY NOGLE, Special to The Herald-Mail

Trinity Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg came alive with secular and sacred music of 16th- and 17th-centuries on Nov. 17-18 as the Antietam Women's Ensemble began their concert with a madrigal by Thomas Weelkes titled "Strike it up, Tabor!"

The choir, accompanied on the keyboard by Dianne Holliman, sang the words of this uptempo English drinking song a capella telling the musician Tabor to "pipe us a favor, (and) Thou shalt be well paid for thy labor."

Director Georgiann H. Toole explained to the audiences of more than 100 that 16th- and 17th-century madrigals were the "pop" music of their time and that this song was a "party" song of that era.

The exuberant pace of "Strike it up, Tabor!" moderated somewhat with John Dowland's four-part "Come Again! Sweet Love Doth Now Invite." The choir sang of the bliss of love in the lyrics "Come again! Sweet love doth now invite thy graces that are refrain to do me due delight."

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Toole then explained that the final madrigal in this section, John Bennett's "Weep, O Mine Eyes," a secular madrigal set to church music, related "the sadness of love." In three-part a capella, the choir sang, "Weep, o mine eyes, and cease not. Alas, these your spring tides."

For the middle part of the program, the choir turned to sacred music, sung in German, and guest instrumentalists Richard Polonchak and Laura Renninger.

Toole explained to the audiences that Baroque composers "took the tenets of the Baroque Era to their utmost." Toole's only complaint, however, is that they didn't write much for women's choruses.

Bassoonist Polonchak helped Toole remedy this problem.

Polonchak, who had attended several Antietam Women's Ensemble concerts, explained to the audience that he had offered to accompany the choir whenever Toole would welcome him.

Polonchak had been Principal Bassoonist of the U.S. Marine Band, "The President's Own," and The White House Orchestra. He has served on the faculties of eight universities and teaches bassoon at Shepherd University.

The Bach piece next on the program was written originally for keyboard, bassoon, tenor and alto. Toole re-edited the keyboard part, and reworked the voice parts for soprano and alto, so this present work became "a world premier" in this edition.

Laura Renninger accompanied Polonchak and the Ensemble on the electronic keyboard. Renninger is the Coordinator for Music History and Music Appreciation at Shepherd University where she also coordinates the Shepherd Gamelan (Balinese ensemble), the first non-Western ensemble to be established at the school.

The bassoon and harpsichord accompaniment to J.S. Bach's oratorio "Du Musst Glauben" from Cantata No. 155 were perfect for the small concert hall setting of Trinity Lutheran Church.

Polonchak then explained that Vivaldi, the next composer on the program, was surely no miser with bassoon works. In fact, he wrote 37 concertos for bassoon! Polonchak performed three movements of Vivaldi's "Concerto in A Minor for Bassoon, Strings and Cembalo" solo with harpsichord accompaniment. The richness of the bassoon combined with the delicacy of the harpsichord was delightful.

Again the choir performed in German. This time Teleman's oratorio "Bringet her dem Herrn" ("Bring to the Lord the honor due His name, Bring an offering and come into His courts"), again accompanied by bassoonist Polonchak.

The program returned to secular music for the Henry Purcell work, a "bar song" called "Wondrous Merry."

Director Toole explained that Purcell is considered by many to be the greatest English composer until the 20th- Century, and that composers of this time enjoyed creating complicated melodies, including a technique of "inverted melodies."

The choir sang the lyrics of "Wondrous Merry" ("He gave me cakes and gave me ale, and gave me sack and sherry") in a three-part round and embellished the work by waving drinking mugs and tankards and calling to one another in the "bar." Soprano Sue Ann Nogle completed the song with a lewd and piercing "wolf whistle" that could surely could be heard in Boonsboro!

The program calmed with William Cornysh's "Ah Robyn!" again sung a cappella. Cornysh himself was a poet, dramatist, actor, playwright and producer of theatrical pageants, and served in the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII.

"Ah Robyn!" was originally set to a secular text for three voices in a canon, a composition, in which a melody stated in one part is then imitated strictly by another part or parts.

The program concluded with "Laudamus Te" by Antonio Caldora (1670-1739) a delightful canon with Latin text, which, despite its sacred theme, created a "dancelike quality."

Audiences are always rewarded with a rich and varied program from an Antietam Women's Ensemble performance, and this one was no exception. The performance artistry of Polonchak and Renninger raised the Ensemble's repertoire to a new level.

Audiences will look forward to solo performances by Ensemble voices in the spring concert "Music for Children of All Ages" April 26 and 27.

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