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Review: Repertory Singers end the season on a high note

The Southern Oregon Repertory Singers gave their final concert of the decade this past weekend under the baton of Dr. Paul French — with a diverse and stimulating program of music that incorporated the contributions of three separate choirs, numerous soloists on wind, brass and vocal instruments, the use of the Oregon Center for the Art’s grand pipe organ, and an assemblage of water glasses and singing bowls, to boot.

Playing to a full house of enthusiastic patrons, French opened the concert with “Regina Caeli” of Orlando di Lasso, one of the most widely admired composers of late 16th century Europe. Following on from that moving voice ensemble was the “Magnificat Prima Toni” of Giovanni da Palestrina, another great master of the Renaissance. The work was disciplined and deeply expressive.

The next featured work was a contemporary piece “All My Heart This Night Rejoices” by American composer Z. Randall Stroope, a vibrant and compelling choral work of striking beauty. Another contemporary piece followed, a setting of the great Medieval hymn “Conditor alme siderum” by Bermuda-born British composer Gabriel Jackson. Oliver Tarney’s haunting unaccompanied Christmas miniature “Balulalow” was next, leading into Alan Smith’s luscious and airy “There is no rose”, with a standout vocal performance from soprano soloist Jeffri Carrington.

Utilizing an unusual and exquisite set of singling bowls on loan from the collection of Dr. Terry Longshore, a percussionist on the Southern Oregon University music faculty, the mixed choir delivered an affecting rendition of contemporary Latvian composer Eriks Esenvald’s “O magnum mysterium,” an unusual and provocative work that also featured tuned water goblets that were sounded by members of the choir.

The traditional Cornish carol “Sans Day Carol” by John Rutter was elegantly executed by a group of female choristers who were joined in the second verse by male voices. With Jodi French on the organ, the choir then delivered a rousing and memorable rendition of the classic Christmas carol “Ding Dong Merrily on High.”

After an intermission, the audience was treated to Michael Culloton’s setting of the soaring and spirited 15th century hymn, “In dulci jubilo,” followed by Bob Chilcott’s sublime “Mid-winter”, a setting of a classic British poem by Christina Rosetti for choir and instruments. The ever popular Welsh carol “Deck the Hall” continued the program, again arranged by John Rutter, after which a trio of singers presented “Lulajze Jezuniu,” an elegant, traditional Polish carol.

The second highlight of the night came with the appearance of soprano Molly Williams, who gave a joyous and genial performance of the compelling “Spanish Carol” as arranged by Andrew Carter. “Mary’s Lullaby,” a carol composed by John Rutter, was next, with a soothing tone and soaring choral support for the dulcet voice of soprano Jennifer Matsuura, accompanied by flute and piano.

The choirs of North Medford and South Medford high schools joined the Repertory Singers on stage for a potent rendering of Roman Hurko’s intense and somewhat lugubrious “Bogoroditse Devo.”

To cap off the night, the combined choirs sang the traditional American spiritual “Rise Up Shepherd and Follow” as arranged by Stacey Gibbs, followed by a finale of “Silent Night” by Franz Gruber with a new tune by American composer Peter Anglea.

The night ended with no encore performance despite a standing ovation from an elated audience. French and the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers again proved why they are a staple in the Rogue Valley when it comes to musical fare of a consistently high standard. We look forward to seeing what comes out of this excellent musical family heading into 2020.

Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is an Ashland Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.

Conductor Paul French leads the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers in an annual series of concerts. Photo by Christopher Briscoe