Soundings: Holocaust cantata fostered introspection

In an appropriate tribute to Veterans' Day, the Williamsburg Choral Guild offered "In Memoriam," which featured "Holocaust Cantata-Songs from the Camps" and two sections from "Ein Deutsches Requiem," both works that fostered introspection, awareness, and tribute to all who have been and are involved in wartime conflict.

The texts and songs and melodies in "Holocaust," taken from individuals imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps, were derived from a thorough study of archival material in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Composer McCullough then fashioned them into an extraordinarily thoughtful and somber work for chorus, soloists, cello, piano, and readers. Although the program notes don't mention it, McCullough was the founder of the Virginia Symphony Chorus and the fully professional Virginia Chorale, and he is the current music director of the Master Chorale of Washington.

The texts, drawn from interviews and historical data, deal with injustices, repression, resignation, pride, and love. They are set against a mournful dialog between cello and piano and were delivered with exceptional care and sensitivity by William Comita and Mildred Young, respectively. The names of several movements, alone, indicate the nature of "Holocaust"-"In Buchenwald," "The Train," "The Prisoner Rises," "Song of Days Now Gone," "The Striped Ones," and "Song of the Polish Prisoners." Interspersed among the songs were readings, snippets of personal expression garnered from notes and letters written by those touched by the Holocaust. The six readers, several of whom have direct ties to the Holocaust, delivered the texts with deep, heart-felt sensitivity and feeling. The songs and text came together in a personal, touching, and inspired performance that, indeed, served for thoughtful reflection and prayer.

The program continued with the second and third movements of the Brahms "German Requiem." Taken as a whole or in parts, the Brahms is one of choral literature's most exquisite works. Not a liturgical requiem for the dead, this work is a collection of Biblical texts drawn together, as one author has described it, into a "benediction of consolation" and "the reconciliation of mourning and death." Its inclusion on the program provided an appropriate and thematic companion for the "Holocaust Cantata."

While there were moments that met with greater success than others, the overall performance was commendable. As a guest soloist in both the "Cantata" and the "Requiem," Christopher Mooney excelled and added to the evening's overall appeal. The Guild supplied an encore with, what was probably the evening's high point for overall presentation, a beautifully lyrical rendering of "How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place," from the "German Requiem."

Throughout the program, conductor Jay BeVille exhibited a knowing and direct hand in coaching from his singers a fine effort that brought meaning to "In Memoriam."