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The final concert of the 2014-15 season for the Bel Canto Company is devoted to the “Yin-Yang of birth to death and rebirth. Night to Day, Darkness to Light, Death to Life.” The program also served as an overview of contemporary choral writing, as all of the composers are still living.
Led by the company’s artistic director Welborn Young, the 30+ ensemble sang mostly introspective, contemplative music. For example, the opening “Had I Not See the Sun,” a poem by Emily Dickinson set by Tarik O'Regan (b. 1978) featured the great Bel Canto a cappella sound in music that was mildly dissonant, with lovely tone clusters that pulled at the listeners’ heart strings. Lauren Smith and Tandy Brown served as the able soloists in Saturday’s performance.
“The New Moon,” a poem by Sara Teasdale set by David Childs (b. 1969) opened with a forte chord from the BCC. The piano joined the ensemble in this multi-sectional work that explored both gentle and dramatic moods. “Sure on this Shining Night” by Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943) displayed BCC’s spot-on intonation in this gentle setting of James Agee’s poem.
“Northern Lights” by Eriks Esenvalds (b. 1977) featured a lovely solo by Nick Daniel accompanied by the ensemble. Halfway through the piece, after a full choral climax, the voices were joined by the ethereal sounds of tone bars (handbells) and tuned water glasses, creating a magical texture.
“Lightly stepped a yellow star” from Three Nocturnes by Dan Forrest (b. 1978) aptly set a more humorous Dickinson poem in a syncopated, jaunty style. The accompanying percussion instruments (marimba, timpani, tambourine, chimes) greatly added to the overall effect. The instrumentalists were Chris Eaton, Larry Pugh, and Daniel Williams.
The percussionists added color and drive in some sections of “In Your Light” by Daniel Elder (b. 1986). This setting of poetry by Rumi also had some dreamy, languid sections, accentuated by the xylophone.
“Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” by Billy Joel (b. 1949) as arranged for the King's Singers by Philip Lawson (b. 1957) was dedicated to long-time BCC supporter and member of the Board of Directors, Suzanne Goddard, who died shortly after the BCC’s Christmas concert. The poignant work, for the men’s voices, effectively employed a solo quartet comprised of Nick Daniel, Josh Cheney, Lesly Dumé, and Wilson Brooks.
The performance of “When at Creation’s Dawn There Was No Sound” by James Clemens (b. 1966) was gorgeous. Unison drones from the women eventually burst into polyphony featuring the entire ensemble in this setting of text by Jean Janzen.
Two a cappella numbers presented more great choral singing. The antiphon, “O Radiant Dawn” by James McMillan (b. 1959) featured a full-voiced opening with a more gentle middle section. “The Sweetheart of the Sun” by Eric William Barnum (b. 1979) sets the poem by Thomas Hood in another mildly dissonant fashion.
“Will There Really Be a ‘Morning’ ” by Craig Hella Johnson (b. 1962) put the women in the spotlight with the second verse nicely sung by Laura Worst and Dianne Berberich. Piano also accompanied the spiritual “All Night, All Day,” in this syncopated arrangement by Dean Rishel.
“Spiritual” by Ysaye M. Barnwell (b. 1946 and from Sweet Honey in the Rock) concluded the evening of music making in a somewhat subdued fashion, completely fitting for the mood of the music and poetry presented in the concert.
A couple of closing comments are in order. Firstly, the music really displayed Young’s wonderful, expressive conducting style with intense attention to details of dynamic shading and rhythmic nuance. Secondly, BCC accompanist Karen Beres’ piano playing was an important element – always colorful, supportive and musical, never overbearing. Finally, members of the BCC read many of the poems before they were sung. Although they were expressively iterated, it was often impossible to catch all the words. There is no substitution for printing the lyrics in the program.
Note: This program will be repeated on April 20. For details, see the sidebar.