The Harlem Chamber Gamers supplied a uncommon, heartfelt efficiency of R. Nathaniel Dett’s 1937 oratorio “The Ordering of Moses” at Riverside Church on Friday, as a part of a centennial celebration of the Harlem Renaissance that had been delayed by the pandemic.
Timed to coincide with the Juneteenth weekend, the occasion felt like a broad neighborhood gathering, as if a sampling of metropolis dwellers stepped off a subway practice and headed to the identical place. New Yorkers throughout ages and races, together with a crying child or two, stuffed the pews. Some wearing natty fits, others in picnic shorts. The one factor stuffy concerning the night was the climate exterior.
With the live performance working delayed, Terrance McKnight, a bunch for WQXR and creative adviser for the ensemble, was readily available to M.C. Noting that the efficiency was being recorded for his radio station, he inspired the viewers to make some noise: “What’s a Juneteenth celebration in New York Metropolis sound like?” The reply: jubilant shouts and applause.
That vitality continued right into a stirring rendition of “Raise Each Voice and Sing,” organized for refrain and soprano soloist (a hard-to-hear Janinah Burnett) by the night’s conductor, Damien Sneed. Generally known as the Black Nationwide Anthem, it introduced the congregation to its toes. Sneed’s harmonization gave it a discordant underbelly reflective of battle — a reminder that it has been solely two years since protests for George Floyd swept the globe, and one 12 months since Juneteenth, an annual statement of Emancipation relationship to 1866, was consecrated as a federal vacation.
The night’s centerpiece, “The Ordering of Moses,” tells the story of Exodus: Moses, impressed by God’s name, overcomes his hesitation and leads the Israelites out of Egypt together with his sister Miriam.
Dett ingeniously wove spirituals into the standard oratorio construction of soloists and refrain expounding a biblical story with orchestra. In a letter across the time of the premiere, he wrote of the synergy between people lyrics and scripture, calling it “placing” and “pure.”
The rating elides musical kinds, as effectively. The emotional restraint of the soloists’ components fits the solemn topic, and when their voices intermingle, the strains transfer maybe too neatly. However the orchestration admits richer, Romantic influences, and a call-and-response with the refrain provides the music the sway of a non secular.
Central to the construction is one non secular specifically, “Go Down, Moses,” and Dett’s bracing fugue on its melody honors its august historical past. Harriet Tubman sang its promise of deliverance from oppression on the Underground Railroad, and Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson popularized it throughout a segregated nation.
At Riverside Church, the bass part of the Chorale Le Chateau strongly anchored the fugue, and the altos lent it readability. The tenors and sopranos shied away from the swiftly transferring harmonies, reflecting a common timidity amongst all of the choristers once they didn’t have a transparent melody to sing.
The tenor Chauncey Packer (Moses) let his voice ring and popped out triumphant excessive notes. The soprano Brandie Sutton (Miriam) phrased her music with assured individuality, echoing the model of the night’s dedicatee, the legendary Jessye Norman. The baritone Kenneth Overton (the Phrase and the Voice of God) sang authoritatively, and the mezzo-soprano Krysty Swann (the Voice of Israel) supplied glimmers of radiance within the taxing contralto writing.
In her opening remarks, Liz Participant, the Harlem Chamber Gamers’ govt and creative director, famous that “The Ordering of Moses” was the ensemble’s largest-ever endeavor. It confirmed typically within the cautious tempos and less-than-sure-footed ensemble.
However moments shone. Because the story opens up, transferring from Moses’ self-doubt to an affirmation of his objective, so does the music: A lonely cello (touchingly performed by Wayne Smith) begins the piece, and an orchestra in full cry ends it, with Packer and Sutton declaiming their strains on excessive because the refrain cushioned them with lengthy, held notes. The impact was resplendent.
Juneteenth, asserted McKnight, is “a celebration of liberty for all Individuals,” and in these ultimate moments, because the music bathed the various assemblage in its glow, it appeared he was proper.