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June 28, 2005

Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs choral classics

Seattle Times

Their sound is nearly as large as their reputation. People who have heard of no other choir have heard of this one. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir made only its fifth Seattle appearance in its history Thursday night, and everyone who witnessed it will remember it. The program began with their signature "Alleluia Fanfare," a tidal wave of voices and instruments, with the added celebratory texture of interspersed hand bells. It was grand, major-key music, just what you'd expect from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir which belied the wealth of musical surprises that awaited in the program.

The choir is a marvel of organization, with perfect showmanship, quick segues and unity of visual presentation. It has created a concert that really works as theater. It moves, in every sense of that word: swift and efficient pacing, emotionally moving performances. It was evident by the second song that one of the big reasons this group remains so musically impressive is the arranging genius of associate music director Mack Wilberg, who was responsible for most of the music on the program. He has a flair for exploiting the trademark huge sound of the choir and at the same time, creating brilliant jewels of orchestration that knocked us all sideways. His touch was to be felt through the entire program, and it is heartening that the choir acknowledges his gifts so openly, bringing him out from the wings for a bow at the end.

The choir and orchestra demonstrated great range, particularly in the first half of the program, from the a cappella beauty of Rachmaninoff's "All Night Vigil," which left the audience breathless, through a Sephardic wedding song, a Welsh lullaby and a dynamic, conga-driven Nigerian carol.

The second half of the program was uniformly American, though it was still plenty diverse. Wilberg's arrangement of "Shenandoah" may well be his most subtle and impressive on the program. The vocal part of the arrangement is lovely, but the instrumental parts provide a poetic counterpoint to the voices and inspire visual images in the mind. In a song about a river, the string parts sound the way a flowing river looks. The result is a miraculous tone painting, and the Orchestra at Temple Square must be commended for bringing out all the subtleties. That such a large group can sound so musically tight is one of the great wonders of the musical world. Those of us who grew up on this choir's recordings can attest that hearing it perform live is an irreplaceable experience that ought to be sought out, at least once in a lifetime.

Posted by acapnews at June 28, 2005 12:29 AM