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There was heavy competition for fans of vocal music in Chapel Hill on a beautiful spring afternoon as Vox Virorum performed in University United Methodist Church while Voices offered music by Mozart and Haydn in Memorial Hall and El Fuego sang music by early Italian and Spanish composers at the Chapel of the Cross. And that was all within a half-mile radius. Yes, it's the end of the season, but these overlaps present challenges all 'round – for enthusiasts of singing, for folks who might have wanted to be in two (or more) places at the same time, and for the presenters, whose "take" at the box office was surely diminished by the competition!
Vox Virorum is an ensemble of around 30 male singers led by Jeremy Nabors (whose day job is at Chapel Hill High) and accompanied by pianist Deborah Coclanis (whose partial bio is here). A program blurb indicates the chorus accepts singers from high school "on up" and is "a place for men to renew their love of singing." (They have beaucoup tenors!) It's evident from everything they do that these vocalists are having a very good time while concurrently making some very handsome choral sounds at high artistic standards of balance, blend, diction (exemplary), and depth of sonority. The ensemble debuted in 2013 and has appeared from time to time since then (including a joint concert with Women's Voices Chorus), garnering consistent praise from several CVNC critics.
On this occasion, the program offered eight serious numbers in the first half and a generally brighter but lighter second half devoted to music from Broadway. There were no program notes and no texts or translations (of non-English pieces) but as noted the diction was splendid and on one occasion the director provided a fine introduction to a relatively new work. Joan Szymko's "It Takes a Village," with percussion (c.2005), got things off to a rousing start with its driving, insistent message of unity. Morten Lauridsen's lovely "Dirait-on" (1993) received a glowing rendition, and Kurt Bestor's "Prayer of the Children" (c.1994) impressed with its emotional depth and the beauty of the performance, particularly in the many quiet passages. "Swing down Chariot," arranged by André J. Thomas, jolted us back to more upbeat spirituality, further enhanced by J. Aaron McDermid's "Come, Sing to Me of Heaven" (2005).
It was a special pleasure to hear an early Spanish love song as radiantly arranged by Z. Randall Stroope; "Amor de mi Alma" proved virtually idyllic as sung on this occasion.
The first half ended with Marta Keen's "Homeward Bound," a stirring "return" song for soldiers, and Jack Feldman's "River in Judea," the vibrant reading of which by its bass soloists and the chorus drew an enthusiastic response from the audience.
Part two was devoted to excerpts from five Broadway shows, encompassing South Pacific (1949), Brigadoon (1947), The Music Man (1957), Guys and Dolls (1950), and Hello, Dolly! (1964). These numbers provided a refreshing cross-section of some of America's greatest contributions to world culture, and by and large they were very handsomely and effectively delivered. The afternoon's soloists were all from the choir aside from two guest artists whose presence enlivened two of the last three numbers – soprano Ellie Simpson (in "Lida Rose") and mezzo-soprano extraordinaire Laura Jones (in "Hello, Dolly").
Yep, a good time was had by all.
But it was a shame to have to make such hard choices for the three matinee concerts in Chapel Hill!