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October 5, 2007

Choir performance falls short

San Antonio Express (TX):

Hard as it is to attain high standards, it's harder still to maintain them. From its debut two years ago, Scott MacPherson's professional San Antonio Chamber Choir set a very high standard indeed for ensemble precision, secure intonation and nimbleness.

Opening a new season Tuesday night, the troupe fell several rungs below its previous level, especially in the very difficult material that MacPherson favors.The ungenerous and somewhat harsh acoustic of Christ Episcopal Church may have contributed to the impression, but that couldn't be the whole story.

MacPherson set a daunting agenda for his 24 singers — maybe too daunting for the allotted rehearsal time. The program opened with J.S. Bach's "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied" for double chorus, a tour de force of complex counterpoint. It was compromised by small but pervasive ensemble problems and by some wobbliness in the sopranos.

MacPherson brought his accustomed energy to the performance, but not enough care with balances. Rather than a tableau of interweaving lines, the result was too often a gray mush.

Christian Ridil's "Nachts," settings of three poems by the German anti-Nazi wartime writer Horst Lange, uses restless, ambiguous harmonies and protean rhythms to convey the texts' atmosphere of gathering danger. In previous outings, the troupe delivered comparably demanding material with seeming ease. This time, pitch and ensemble problems blurred the music.

The choir was on firmer ground in the luxurious harmonies and long lines of Johannes Brahms' meditative "Warum ist das Licht gegeben," to religious texts. MacPherson shaped the whole beautifully, giving it a fine sense of momentum. The choir sang cleanly, too, in three slight but attractive French songs by Paul Hindemith and in Franz Schöggl's amusing send-up of Franz Schubert's familiar song "The Trout," in the styles of Mozart, Beethoven, Weber and Wagner.

The troupe gave a spirited account of Manfred Länger's delicious "Act Up!" Spoken rather than sung, the piece sets fragments of frivolous gossip, newspaper reading and come-ons in carefully constructed counterpoint. For an encore, the choir gave an aptly serene performance of Schubert's "Du bist die Ruhe" in Norman Luboff's choral arrangement.

Posted by acapnews at October 5, 2007 12:12 AM

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