« As world music turns, Bulgarian choir returns | Main | A cappella Grammy nominations announced »

December 5, 2006

A Choir at Christmas, Medieval to Spirituals

New York Times :

The San Francisco men’s choir Chanticleer turned 29 this year, but to judge by the fresh faces among the dozen singers who appeared at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Sunday, several current members might not have been born when the group was founded. The performance, held in the museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall, was the first of the group’s popular annual Christmas concerts.

Beyond the inherent attractions of each selection, the program offered an effective showcase for this extraordinary ensemble’s broad stylistic range. The plainspoken “Natus est rex,” a medieval French chant by an unknown composer, allowed listeners to drink in the heady blend of voices, which swelled and lingered in the reverberant space. Its opposite number was the silken “Nesciens mater,” a dazzling canonic motet by the 16th-century Franco-Flemish composer Jean Mouton.

The singers divided into two groups for Andrea Gabrieli’s “Quem vidistis pastores?” and gleefully exchanged buoyant lines set to bouncy rhythms. “Altissima luce,” a medieval Italian sacred song, offered breathtakingly hushed singing from the sopranos and altos. In another of these, “Venite a laudare,” words of penitence resounded with a manly swagger.

A pair of German cradle songs underscored Chanticleer’s tonal richness. The singers seamlessly moved through styles and keys in a patchwork arrangement of “In dulci jubilo” compiled from four different settings, including a densely polyphonic verse by Hieronymous Praetorius and an elegantly adorned conclusion by Bach.

“O Morgenstern,” a brief antiphon (liturgical chant) by Arvo Pärt, was filled with otherworldly harmonies and aching, unresolved melodies. A lush Magnificat by César Cui elicited strong performances from the choir’s highest voices. With eyes closed, it was nearly impossible to believe that you were hearing an all-male ensemble.

The traditional carols that followed included some of those currently blasting from loudspeakers in elevators and department stores; here, they were reinvigorated by the elegant arrangements of Joseph Jennings, the group’s music director. Mr. Jennings joined the choir for its finale, a rousing medley of spirituals in arrangements that sometimes hinted at doo-wop.

The adoring throng demanded an encore, and got one: a ravishing “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl

Posted by acapnews at December 5, 2006 12:03 AM