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March 9, 2009

Vocalists return to their reverent roots

Pioneer Press (MN):

Over the course of its 13-year history, Twin Cities-based choir the Rose Ensemble has lent its voices to a variety of styles: Mexican baroque, traditional Hawaiian, Shaker hymns. But this weekend, some visitors from England are helping bring them back to the sound upon which they were founded: European music of the 16th century and earlier.

In collaboration with the English vocal octet Voces8, the Rose Ensemble is presenting a program of Renaissance polyphony, hearkening back to the layered, interweaving harmonies that echoed off the walls of European cathedrals shortly after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door.

So Friday night's concert in the old-world setting of St. Paul's Church of St. Bernard felt like a sacred homecoming for the Rose Ensemble. But, above all, it was a wonderful showcase for the talents of Voces8, which stepped away from the larger combined chorus for a set of five works from disparate religious traditions and eras, delivering a reminder to choir-crazed locals that there's something uniquely satisfying about experiencing an outstanding small vocal ensemble.

That's not to say the collaborative portion of the concert wasn't also very enjoyable. Performing excerpts from a groundbreaking Renaissance work, English composer William Byrd's "The Great Service," the massed choir sounded as if it had been singing together considerably longer than a week, especially on a fluid and florid "Ave Maria" by Robert Parsons that was slipped in amid the Byrd.

But the most memorable moments of Friday's concert came when Voces8 performed alone. Romantic Robert Pearsall's "Lay a Garland" was an elegy with just the right mix of grief and transcendence. And their lone venture into the 20th century, Gustav Holst's "Nunc Dimittis," was a fine display for their basses' clear thunder and their sopranos' soaring leads.

If this was Voces8's first collaboration with another group, they found the right partners in the Rose Ensemble. This came through on one of those rich Renaissance works by Giovanni Gabrieli, the kind more often heard from horns, rather than human voices. On this night, the two groups sounded reverently powerful and as resonant as the best brass.

Posted by acapnews at March 9, 2009 8:35 PM

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