CD Review: Live from Carnegie Hall, Moravec-Campbell SANCTUARY ROAD with Oratorio Society
I was delighted to hear that the Oratorio Society of New York's world premiere at Carnegie Hall of SANCTUARY ROAD (Naxos 8.559884)--a work for orchestra, chorus and a quintet of soloists--had been captured on disc. Not only is the story worth bringing to a broader audience, but the magic of the work, composed by Paul Moravec with a libretto by Mark Campbell based on the writings of William Still, "a conductor for the Underground Railroad", merits hearing over and over again. As I wrote in May 2018, the gorgeous musicality of the performance, with orchestra and vocal artists under Kent Tritle, was filled with energy and humanity.
On second hearing, I found the impression from that performance in Carnegie Hall clearly justified. Commissioned by the Oratorio Society as a choral showpiece, it is the work of the soloists that are key to the effectiveness of the words and music.
The compelling score by Moravec remains as melodic as it is thrilling. It not only creates a wall of pulsating sound for the chorus but also conceives a set of arias for the soloists that brings individual stories unmistakably to life--thanks to a libretto by Campbell that gathers vivid and heart-rending details from Still's journals and turns them into real people.
William Still may be less familiar a figure than Harriet Tubman, but in SANCTUARY ROAD, where he is both narrator and character in his own story, he is unforgettable. "Write it down. Write it," he says. "Write. Record. Recount. Chronicle. Write it down. Every word...." As Still, bass-baritone Dashon Burton is stately and noble, grand and grave.
But it is the quartet of "passengers" on the railroad and their singular experiences that are key to the success of the piece. The opulent voices of soprano Laquita Mitchell and mezzo Raehann Bryce-Davis, the honeyed sound of tenor Joshua Blue, and the warm baritone of Malcolm J. Merriweather, in unison or solo, draw us into the work.