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Music Review

Cantata Singers close season with imagination

“In my end is my beginning,’’ T. S. Eliot wrote, and that described the concert with which David Hoose and the Cantata Singers concluded their 2011-12 season at Jordan Hall Saturday. The six selections on the program - all by American composers who, like Eliot, are associated with New England - offered a multitude of beginnings and endings. The imaginative lineup even encompassed a sonata for piano four hands and no chorus - a piece that, odder still, was split by intermission.

Titled “In Thoughts, Our Dreams,’’ the evening began with “Invocation,’’ Charles Fussell’s 1996 setting of a poem by May Sarton, here in Hoose’s arrangement for chorus and two pianos. The text rises from the dark earth, “deeper than seed or birth,’’ to “primeval candor’’; the chorus invoked while the two pianists, David Kopp and Rodney Lister, paused to consider.

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Earl Kim’s “Some Thoughts on Keats and Coleridge’’ (1990), an a cappella choral work set to lines by those two Romantic poets, was a kind of four seasons, the many comings and goings wreathed in smoke and shadow. Here the Cantata Singers were lusciously bittersweet. Kim’s “Scenes From a Movie, Part 3: The Twenty-Sixth Dream’’ (1996), for baritone, chorus, and two pianos, was less successful. The text, from Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Aus dem Traumbuch,’’ is chilling, but Mark Andrew Cleveland struggled to give the unidiomatic-sounding translation a satisfying shape.

Harold Shapero wrote his Four-Hand Sonata for Piano in 1941, when he was still a Harvard undergraduate, as a piece to play with classmate Leonard Bernstein. It’s a motoric bit of urban claustrophobia that recalls Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra; you can practically see the pelvic displacements of Balanchine dancers. Kopp and Lister gave it a modern, architecturally clear reading with little swing or jazz. No explanation was offered as to why the first movement was played before intermission (between the two Kim selections) and the second and third movements after.

Lister also appeared on the program as a composer; his a cappella “The Annunciation’’ (2002) opened the second half of the evening, and it was four minutes of ethereal beauty. The piece draws on W.H. Auden’s long poem “For the Time Being,’’ lines that echo Eliot’s “Ash-Wednesday’’ (“The garden is unchanged, the silence is unbroken’’); the chorus seemed timeless.

Aaron Copland’s “In the Beginning’’ (1947) provided a fitting ending, a setting of Genesis 1 and 2:1-7 for mezzo-soprano and chorus. Janna Baty and the singers reigned by turns in majesty. The only mishap was the omission of the last 11 verses from the program book.

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.
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