Chorus Corner: Chanticleer, Cantus and Seraphic Fire
Singers singing songs. Times are good for choral music when stalwart Chanticleer and relative newcomers Cantus and Seraphic Fire produce new music in such close proximity. Chanticleer releases a collection of concert highlights while Cantus expands the choral acreage on all four sides and Seraphic Fire looks backward with an instrumentally strip-down of an old favorite.
The Siren's Call: Live Concert Highlights
Enjoying its 35th season this year, the all-male chorus from San Francisco continues to expand its reach in world music. The Siren's Call is a collection of plum picks from the group's September 2012 concerts at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The program spans both time and place, beginning in the Renaissance Italy of Andrea Gabrieli (1533-1585) and ending in the pop perfection transformed by Freddie Mercury (1946-1991).
The group's concert is mostly chronological with Gabrieli, Palestrina and Gesualdo tacking down the early music with the inclusion of Nicholas Gombert's beautifully textured "En Douleur Et Tristesse." Edvard Grieg's soothing "I Laid Me Down to Slumber" is quickly followed by the boisterous "Yea, Cast Me From The Heights Of The Mountain" by Edward Elgar. Chen Yi's title giver is swooping and otherworldly, Yi's gift to the group on its anniversary. From Finland comes Jaakko Mantyjarvi's lengthy and supple "Canticum calmitatis maritimae." Disc highlights are Tom Waits' "Temptation," arranged by Vince Peterson into a stunningly dynamic Tour de Force, filled with drama and pathos. The disc closer is Queen leader Freddie Mercury's "Somebody to Love" was arranged for a previous show was so popular it is included here in celebration of the group's 35th season.
Chanticleer's sonic quality remains at once luscious and disciplined. The sopranos and altos stand out, with the lower registers tempering the overall creaminess of the group without compromising the overall richness of sound. Chanticleer remains the vocal force to be reckoned with, even in this fortunate period of more choral groups coming to prominence.
On The Shoulders of Giants
As opposed to Chanticleer, the fellow all-male ensemble Cantus is tenor heavy, composed of five tenors and four lower-register voices. Such vocal composition gives way to a mantra-like, hypnotic tone in performance not unlike that of sixth-century monks singing the Divine Office, warm in chilly stone confines. Like Chanticleer, Cantus' repertoire has grown more diverse since its founding in 2000, including music well beyond the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
On The Shoulders of Giants highlights the more important vocal movements of the Second Millennium ACE. The disc begins with a Latin fragment of organa (the earliest example of polyphony) by Perotin the Great (c. 1150c.1230) based on Psalms 119:23. The song springs from a cool organicness employing a continuo of voices behind the acerbic melody. Thomas Tallis is represented by his song "If Ye Love Me" and Claudio Monteverdi's "Crucifixus" from the Apostles' Creed, shows both the composer's means of capturing the Christian Mystery and expressing it in art. The German influence is expressed in Mendelssohn's "Lift Thine Eyes," Schubert's "Die Nacht" and Schumann's "Di Rose stand in Tau" Cantus has a sure grasp of the Romantic song.
Like with the Chanticleer offering, it is the most modern that is most interesting. Cantus takes on U2's somber "MLK" in an inspired performance that captures the dynamics of Perotin's "Sederunt" and the pastoral elegance of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More" (a collection of the latter's compositions would be a most welcome addition to the Cantus discography). Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere" from West Side Story is a plush and quietly virile vehicle with which to end an excellent recital. Cantus, toe-to-toe with Chanticleer, is a most excellent and completely unique vocal ensemble.
Claudio Monteverdi: Vespers for the Blessed Virgin 1610
Seraphic Fire musical director Patrick Dupre Quigley goes to great lengths in explaining that recent performances of Vespers by historically-informed Baroque orchestras, while beautiful and majestic, are not really historically informed. Rather than large orchestras and choruses, Monteverdi, a prince of the Renaissance, was used to working and composing for more spare ensembles. Overzealous conducting and misplaced research had done the same to Monteverdi as pre-war conducting had done to Beethoven, both approached their subjects from their respective futures rather than more appropriately from their pasts.