Lift Mine Eyes: East Carolina University Chamber Singers In Concert 2011-2014: Angele Dei (Susan LaBarr), Strikke des Todes hatten mich, from Das ist mir Lieb, SWV 51/2 (Heinrich Schutz), Ave Maria (Daniel Elder), Ain't Got Time To Die (arr. Hall Johnson), Biolin Musikaz (arr. David Azurza), little man in a hurry, from The City and the Sea (Eric Whitacre), Tempest Rhapsody (Daniel Elder), I Will Lift Mine Eyes (Jake Runestad), Daniel, Servant of the Lord (arr. Stacey Gibbs), O Magnum Mysterium (Ivo Antognini), Habanera from Carmen (Georges Bizet), with Jami Rhodes (mezzo-soprano), Good Night, Dear Heart (Dan Forrest), Cantate Domino (Josu Elberdin); There will come soft rains (Ivo Antognini), John Saw de Numbuh (arr. Stacey Gibbs). East Carolina University Chamber Singers; Andrew Crane, conductor; Eric Stellrecht, piano; Engineered and mastered by Travis Garrison; East Carolina University (Recorded in concert 2011-2014) © 2015. Time for each selection is not listed. For purchasing information see note at bottom of review.
One is almost tempted to call out, “The hits keep on coming…” when assessing recordings by the East Carolina University Chamber Singers. This third recording – admittedly a long time in the making – shows off the considerable skills of this choral ensemble under the direction of Dr. Andrew Crane, the first recording since he succeeded Dr. Daniel Bara as ECU’s director of choral activities. Crane leans slightly in favor of more contemporary music, including works by contemporary composers who have been commissioned to create music specifically for the ensemble. But in fact and in performance, the singers handle music from several centuries and in a great variety of styles with considerable skill.
Much has happened to and with the Chamber Singers since this recording began. It was intended for release at year’s end a few years back, but Crane was not pleased with the quality of the production, so over many months of post-recording production work, and with the inclusion of more recently recorded selections, the disc eventually became sort of a Chamber Singers’ “greatest hits as directed by Andrew Crane” and now dates from 2011 to 2014. Since then, the ensemble has won the 2012 American Prize for Choral Performance in the college-university division and has competed in two international choral competitions. In fact, the disc includes five selections from an award-winning performance in the 2013 Tolosa, Spain, competition, in which the ECU group placed second, a fraction behind the winning group. Other selections on the recording are from performances in Greenville and Charlotte.
The recording shows a number of strengths, chief among them a fine maturity of voices one might not ordinarily associate with a group of approximately 40 college-age singers. Diction and timing are precise; phrasing and dynamics are wonderful; the blend is exquisitely seamless. The range of music here is impressive, from early music of Heinrich Schütz to gospel-spiritual forms to contemporary (yet quite accessible) compositions. Most of the pieces are sung a cappella; some are accompanied nicely by pianist Eric Stellrecht.
Highlights are many: “O Magnum Mysterium” and “There Will Come Soft Rains” by contemporary composer Ivo Antognini, with lovely harmonies and legato lines; Hall Johnson’s arrangement of “Ain’t Got Time To Die,” with terrific solo lines by DeMarcus Kelly (and the closing measures in which he is joined by Trey Scarborough; their soaring harmony produces chills); the wordless “Tempest Rhapsody” by Daniel Elder, one of the pieces commissioned for the Chamber Singers. The other commissioned work is “Angele Dei,” by Susan LaBarr, a beautiful piece that opens the recording.
The five pieces from the Tolosa competition that are on the disc show the variety of music at which the ensemble excels, and the audience seems quite enthusiastic about the performances. Worth special mention are Elder’s “Ave Maria” and Josu Elberdin’s lively “Cantate Domino.”
The Chamber Singers now have earned an international choral championship, having placed first in the 13th Maribor International Choral Competition Gallus in Slovenia in April. (A review of their pre-competition concert in Greenville in early April can be found on cvnc.org.) They were the only American choir to participate, and they are the first American choir to win. As a result of this win, the Chamber Singers will participate next year in the European Grand Prix involving winners of several 2014-15 individual competitions. To get an idea of just how good this group is, “Life Mine Eyes” is a fine introduction.
(“Lift Mine Eyes” is available to the public for a contribution of $20 or more to the choral music program at East Carolina University. Information: ECU School of Music, 252-328-6851.)