Schola Cantorum of Texas is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season, and on Monday night it gave a grand demonstration of its strengths as a choral ensemble.
With Dr. Jerry McCoy conducting in Arborlawn United Methodist Church, the 72-voice chorus sang a wide-ranging program of 18 brief numbers that ranged in atmosphere from solemn to goofy while capitalizing on the chorus's power, subtlety and beauty of tone.
Most of the pieces were unaccompanied, and in those cases where piano or organ gave support, their sound was generally subdued. The focus was always on the human voice.
The unusual program was a sort of reminiscence of seasons past. Dr. Gary Ebensberger, conductor emeritus of the chorus, opened the evening by recounting some of the high points of his time with the group from 1975 through 2000. All of the pieces that followed, with possibly two exceptions, were works that the group had sung in previous seasons, sometimes on six or seven occasions.
The grand opener was Handel's Zadok the Priest, a glorious, celebratory work that brings to mind some parts of the Messiah. There was joy, strength and unity in the chorus's presentation.
The remaining seven pieces in the opening group tended to be peaceful in atmosphere, though a movement from a Brahms motet had a powerful conclusion. The work that most moved me was a movement from Rachmaninoff's Vespers, a lovely piece that in its subdued atmosphere of religious devotion is far from the kind of music we generally associate with the composer.
The Schola Cantorum split into two smaller units for a couple of the program's groups. One, the 24-voice Schola Cantorum Chamber Choir, gave a lovely and moving performance of the oldest work of the evening, a Palestrina Alma Redemptoris Mater, as the highlight of a group of religious-themed compositions from the Renaissance and Baroque eras.
Schola Lite, a nine-member chorus, provided some comic relief with Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Choirboys and The Yellow Rose of Texas sung in German, of all things.
The full chorus again wound up the program with a group from more recent times (excepting one Brahms Liebeslieder Waltz). Morten Lourdes's Dirait-on and Norman Dello Joio's Come to Me, My Love were striking highlights.