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October 2, 2006

Review: A cappella group's precision blends parts into solo voice

Des Moines Register (IA):

For the second time in just more than six months, the 12 a cappella male voices of Chanticleer - "America's favorite choral ensemble" - thrilled a sold-out crowd in Drake's Sheslow Auditorium Friday night with their new tour program "Love's Messengers." The demand-return engagement, sponsored by donors to Des Moines' Civic Music Association, presented a lavish variety of love music from Europe and around the world in faultless performances ranging from medieval plainchant to 21st-century vocal jazz.

Though Chanticleer was nothing less than extravagant in all aspects of its showmanship - musicianship, precision, clarity, versatility - the concert was still intimate and friendly. Helpful program notes were attractively delivered orally by tenor Matthew Oltman, who grew up in Des Moines, joined the group in 2000 and is its assistant music director. Pieces from Palestrina to Poulenc were also thoughtfully introduced in the program, which included texts.

Chanticleer's talent and taste were in full swing from the group's first moment - an "ecstatic declaration of the joy wrought by love" set by Gerald Finzi to words of Robert Bridges - to the closing flourish - Cole Porter's "It's All Right With Me." The singers' extravagant precision made the plainsong "Veni sposa Christ" sound like a solo voice, and the organum-like sections of Eric Whitacre's recent "This Wedding" sound like a solo voice singing four parts.

Chanticleer's extravagant daring was exhibited in virtuoso showpieces by Messiaen and Stockhausen, whose vocal tritones and other dissonances the singers negotiated with complete comfort and finesse. The group's members' extravagant versatility of language (including bits of Sanskrit and Quechua) was exceeded only by extravagance of vocal production: When they sang "Jindo Arirang" (arranged for them by composer Jeeyoung Kim when he was in residence with the group), they made a sound like a dozen natives of a dozen Korean villages. And Chanticleer negotiated the breathtaking chiaroscuro (cries and whispers!) of Gesualdo's late Renaissance harmonies as if it were do-re-mi.

A particularly stunning high point came when Chanticleer processed ritualistically around the stage in John Tavener's Greek-Orthodox-influenced "Village Wedding." The other high point was the entry on stage of Chanticleer's irresistible music director, Joseph Jennings, for the final section of jazz arrangements - most of them his. Nobody in the audience wanted the evening to end.

Posted by acapnews at October 2, 2006 10:12 PM