Niskayuna singers join SSO for impressive concert

Marc Schultz: On Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, at Proctors, the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra performed John Rutter's "Mass of the Children" with Niskayuna High School’s combined mixed chorus and children’s chorus. Marc Schultz: On Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, at Proctors, the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra performed John Rutter's "Mass of the Children" with Niskayuna High School’s combined mixed chorus and children’s chorus.

Geraldine Freedman/For The Daily Gazette

SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady Symphony Orchestra did itself proud Sunday afternoon at Proctors before a large crowd of family and friends of the 140 singers from Niskayuna High School’s combined mixed chorus and children’s chorus.

It was an impressive showing, particularly since the piece, John Rutter’s “Mass of the Children” (2003), was new to the orchestra and music director Charles Schneider. This was also the first time the SSO had worked with the Niskayuna choruses. It could have been a daunting task to lead such huge forces, but Schneider was aided by how well their director, Christina Pizzino-Catalano, had prepared the young singers. English and Latin diction was very good to excellent, every entrance and cut off were followed exactly, and because Rutter wrote the vocal parts without straining the ranges, pitch and balance were terrific.

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Pizzino-Catalano was also something of a revelation, as she was the soprano soloist along with baritone Woodrow Bynum, well known as the director of the Cathedral of All Saints’ Choir for Men and Boys. They were a stunning duo with strong projection, finished phrases, and superbly professional manner. What a great example for the young people to hear.

The piece itself is glorious with happy harmonies, a wonderful orchestration and an interesting blend of English poetry intertwined with the standard Latin mass. The opening “Kyrie” was almost in a pop vein and could have backed a Disney movie. Rutter’s music reflected the overall vocal sound, which was light, clear and sunny. There were many inspired moments.

The orchestra, too, was enlivened and enthusiastic, something it was not in the first half of the program. Although they did everything right in the opening Beethoven Symphony No. 8 (1812), the playing lacked the joyous elan that the piece needs. Balances, too, sometimes favored the brass and timpani.

There were two short interlude-type pieces, which should have had seamless performances but didn’t. In Faure’s “Pavane” (1887), the opening sweetly flowing melody got a self-conscious statement from the principal flute. In Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” (1915), the connections among the various phrases were often hard-edged. The piece is a marvel for its romantic, melancholic, dreamy quality, but there seemed more drama than required.