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April 20, 2007

Chanticleer's not perfect

Cincinnati Enquirer (OH):

Almost everything written about Grammy Award-winning choral ensemble Chanticleer uses one of two words to describe it: “perfect” or “perfection.”

But when the 12-man, San Francisco-based group performed at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral as part of its Great Music in a Great Space series Wednesday evening, they most decidedly were not perfect.

And that’s a good thing.

If perfection is really what you’re after, buy a CD. Because, along with the occasional pitch problem and a soprano who tended toward the screechy, Wednesday’s performance also had oodles of spontaneity. And unpredictability. And downright charm.

Chanticleer – the name is borrowed from the rooster in “The Canterbury Tales” – makes exquisite music. Indeed, it’s hard to listen to an afternoon of classical music radio programming anywhere in the U.S. or Canada and not hear one of this 29-year-old group’s recordings. It seems there is no musical style beyond its reach, from medieval plainsong to late-20th-Century dissonance, from Romantic idyll to Impressionistic tone poem.

In truth, watching Chanticleer is nearly as engaging as listening to it. Nearly all musicians move when they perform. But watching the 12 members of Chanticleer is like watching the movement of a single, complex organism. They bob and sway and even dip their heads like impatient thoroughbreds, as if tugging ever so briefly on the reins of the music before it hurtles forward. It’s breathtaking.

Love was the theme of the Wednesday’s program. Accordingly, the program opened with Gerald Finzi’s sweet and joyful ode to new love, “My Spirit Sang All Day.”

It’s a lovely piece, straightforward and unabashedly sentimental. But love is far more multifaceted than the cheery emotion that Finzi’s eyes-wide-open piece explores. And so, too, is music about love. In the course of the evening, the music was, by turns, jubilant, pensive, flighty, pained and – of course – seductive.

But it was never more moving than in John Tavener’s “Village Wedding.” Recalling a wedding in a tiny Greek village, the piece brings together a remarkable agglomeration of musical influences. At times it is reminiscent of the plaintive chants at the beginning of the program. But Tavener, one of modern music’s most astute choral composers, blends it with the modal intricacies of Balkan music and sorrowful sounds of Ukrainian bandura choirs.

Much to the delight of the near-capacity audience, cathedral music director Anthony DiCello announced that next year’s series would not only include Chanticleer – it will be the group’s seventh appearance – but also the legendary King’s College Choir from Cambridge, England.

Posted by acapnews at April 20, 2007 12:01 AM