The Concert Singers of Cary ended their 2011-12 season with a lighter-than-usual program of international fare, presented in the Cary Arts Center. The evening, titled "Earthsongs," featured tunes from around the world and close to home, too, including a world premiere setting of a Stephen Crane text by local composer Jacob Groff. There was international music outside, too, as an amplified polka band held forth across from the entrance to the Arts Center; the sound intruded during softer portions of the first half of the Concert Singers' program but the band was gone by intermission.
Lawrence Speakman conducted the richly varied program, which included the main CSC Concert Choir of 115 or so voices plus various subsets – the Chamber Choir (in the premiere) and various smaller ensembles and groupings. The accompaniments were varied, too, encompassing pianist Allen Bailey plus violinist Tasi Matthews, cellist Virginia Hudson, and percussionist Julia Thompson.
A surprising number of the works were not folksongs or pieces of folk origin but bore instead composers' names. Others were arrangements, many by artists who are exceedingly well known. The tone of the evening was for the most part reflective but there were enough up-beat songs to keep things lively.
Africa was represented by "Freedom Come," a surprisingly confident song from within prison walls, by Ben Allaway, and by a joyous dance song, "Kpanlongo," arranged by Derek Bermel.
From Russia and Finland came works of faith and supplication by Niko Sulkhanishvili and as arranged by Donald Patriquin, sandwiching a lovely setting by Joshua Jacobson of Abraham Goldfaden's Yiddish lullaby known as "Raisins and Almonds."
Later there were pieces from India and China, very handsomely delivered, and music from Argentina (a choral version of Piazzolla's "Spring," from The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) and from Brazil.
Along the way were several American groups – "Motherless Child" and Moses Hogan's version of "Didn't my Lord Deliver Daniel?" plus a stirring number in the gospel tradition by Anthony Leach and a positively radiant trio of songs from Appalachia. The latter began with an arrangement by Craig Hella Johnson of Dolly Partin's "Light of a Clear Blue Morning" that was surely one of the highlights of the evening. Matthews enlivened this and the other two Appalachian pieces – "Cluck ol' Hen" and "Shenandoah" – with some infectious fiddling, and the crowd demonstrated its approval in no uncertain terms.
The premiere, Groff's "Intrigue," was darker than one might have expected, speaking of "the peace of sundown," storms, "the ashes of other men's loves," and related woeful sentiments. It is a very attractive, decidedly traditional work, nicely sung by the Chamber Choir and quite lightly accompanied on this occasion – indeed, one suspects it would evince even greater power if sung a cappella.
There were from time to time some fine solos, delivered by members Tyler Oakley, Jennifer Canada, Carolyn Hassett, and Jennifer Myers.
Throughout the concert, the CSC's diction was exemplary. The group needs more men (or perhaps fewer women), but only rarely did the imbalance in numbers affect the blend of the sound. Speakman is a highly animated director, one of our region's best, and it was a treat to hear a first-rate choir like this sing a program of mostly short, mostly light music.
Check CVNC's calendar next fall for the groups 2012-13 season lineup.
P.S. Midway through the concert violinist Carter Coleman was announced as the winner of a scholarship named in memory of early CSC mainstay Fuller S. Blunt.
*Note: For a letter to the editor concerning this review, see http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5543.