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December 3, 2005

Now Christmas Can Begin

New York Sun (NY):

Last night, Chanticleer gave its annual Christmas concert, at the Metropolitan Museum, in the Medieval Sculpture Hall, in front of the big, elegant Christmas tree and the Neapolitan Baroque creche. Actually, the group did this twice: They gave one concert at 6:30, and another at 8:30. (I caught the earlier one.) They will give two more on Sunday night.They really pack 'em in, these guys. I imagine they could sell out concerts more.

Chanticleer, as you know, is the 12-man a cappella singing group from San Francisco. Every year, I say that their Christmas concert is a highlight of the season - not just of the Christmas season, but of the music season at large. And every year it's true. What do they have, these fellows? Technique, smarts, taste. Discipline, unity, inspiration.They embody a musicianship that could instruct any group - from a guitar duo to the Berlin Philharmonic.

Last night,they processed to Gregorian chant, then sang some Byrd. What a genius, that Elizabethan Englishman! The singers were obviously delighting in their own sound - as well as Byrd's - and why not? Then they sang some more Gregorian chant, followed by something Spanish - a piece by Victoria (not the equal of Byrd). Of special interest was a 16th-century Basque carol, lively, virtually jazzy. Of even more special interest was a 17thcentury Portuguese number, flavored by Guinean culture - this piece was both rousing and beatific. A find, as far as I'm concerned.

Arvo Part is a top composer of our day, and his "Bogoroditsye Dyevo" is cheerful and angelic, with masterly modulations. Chanticleer pulled it off superbly. And they stayed to the East, singing the Magnificat, Op. 93, of Cesar Cui, known as one of the Russian "Five,"or "Mighty Handful."In this,the singers were both correct and soulful. It's hard to ask for more, in anything. They showed more Western polish than Russian grit, but that was all right.

"The First Nowell," in the arrangement by David Willocks, was unbelievably beautiful and moving - maybe the highlight of the evening. The countertenors opted out of the high notes at the end, which was slightly disappointing, but the carol was impressive enough. Then they sang the "Huron Carol," by St. Jean de Brebeuf, which the group likes, and sings hauntingly. And they closed their printed program with a Christmas medley, arranged by their music director, Joseph Jennings. The medley ends with the soaring, righteous "Jerusalem in the Morning." The group has sung it more robustly than they did last night - at least in the first concert - and, in fact, they were a little vanilla. The audience loved it nonetheless. Their encore was their signature encore, Biebl's Ave Maria, effective as always.

Last year (I think), I heard a woman say, as she was leaving,"Now Christmas can begin." No doubt others feel that way.At Christmas, Chanticleer is an antidote to cynicism and nihilism. Their concert defeats both nastiness and apathy. They are "Merry Christmas" substance in a land of "Happy Holidays" emptiness. I wish they'd give that concert more often.

Posted by acapnews at December 3, 2005 12:13 AM