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The concert by Cantari, Voices' smaller, select ensemble, at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill on Saturday afternoon affirmed the importance of contemporary music by featuring the music of Dan Locklair, Composer-in-Residence and Professor of Music at Wake Forest University. Locklair has composed for a wide range of musical idioms from symphonic orchestra to chamber ensembles to keyboard instruments. He is especially known and highly regarded for his sacred choral works and organ pieces.
Over its 36 years, Voices has championed a generous number of contemporary composers and has commissioned several new works adding much to their repertoire and providing meaningful joy and pleasure for their broad audience throughout the years. Cantari is the 26-voice hand-picked vocal ensemble (auditioned by Dr. Sue Klausmeyer, Conductor and Artistic Director of Voices).
The first selection on the program was a wondrous treat of pure choral music, unaccompanied and infused with the blend of colors and emotions only possible with the trained human voice. Locklair composed "A DuBose Heyward Triptych" on commission from the Carolina Chamber Chorale based in Charleston, SC. The piece is cast in three movements; a cappella settings of poems by Dubose Heyward (who was the creator of the libretto for Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess). The first poem, "Silences," is a quiet narrative reflecting on the bells of the famous Charleston churches. Near the end, there is a reference to the bells of St. Phillip's which, during the Civil War, were recast into cannon. In other references, the bells speak of the life of the city of Charleston and for her silences. It was sung in rich harmony and a variety of sonic colors including solo passages rendered effectively by Nanette de Andrade, Beth Robbins, Dale Bailey and Jeremy Jennings.
The second movement, "Landbound," celebrates the sea and air that surrounds the port city of Charleston. With lively sounds this poem recalls "the scream of a wind-blown gull" and "the shout of a bleak storm-riven crest." The choral setting underlies the words and the images of the poem and was sung with a vigorous sense of communication.
The third poem, "Dusk," is set by Locklair in blocks of rich harmony calling on eight-part textures, even at times dividing into separate male and female voice parts. The techniques he uses so effectively to paint the variety of images, sounds, and feelings of the poetry make for an almost symphonic listening experience. Klausmeyer and Cantari seemed to be ideally matched to this gorgeous music.
Matthew Michael Brown is Director of Music and Organist at First United Methodist Church of Salisbury, NC and is widely known for his concert performances, especially in the eastern States and in western Europe. He performed, at the very fine organ in the sanctuary of the Church of the Cross, a selection from Locklair’s Windows of Comfort, Organbook I. "…beside the still waters" is a chaconne – a motif which is repeated while over it another theme is developed. The main theme is a haunting phrase that includes gently leaping notes, a serene and lyrical reflection of the iconic image of peace from the 23rd Psalm.
Locklair's Requiem was composed in memory of his parents. It is cast in nine movement alternating elements of the Latin Requiem Mass and scriptures of comfort from the Protestant tradition which are sung by the four soloists. The soloists also appear in movements one and in movement nine, where they are placed antiphonally. All the texts are sung in English translation, even the traditional Latin mass elements.
The opening "Introit and Kyrie Eleison" calls for eternal rest and for mercy. The music was gentle, but pleading and contained elements of praise and reassurance in rich choral writing with gentle organ accompaniment played by Brown.
The second movement, "Let not Your Heart Be Troubled" (John 14:1-4, KJV) was sung by Dale Bailey, a steady member of Cantari. His strong and lyrical tenor voice was well-matched to this text, and he communicated the message of comfort most effectively.
The "Sanctus-Benedictus" was all praise with a marvelous organ accompaniment.
The fourth movement "Pie Jesu" was the one Latin portion of the Requiem that was sung by a soloist. Cantari alto, Joncie Sarratt, gave a warm and loving rendition of this appeal for eternal rest.
"Agnus Dei," another appeal for mercy and for eternal rest, was sung well by the chorus with a steady and reassuring organ accompaniment.
The sixth movement, (taken from John 11:25-26, KJV) "I Am the Resurrection," was given a powerful and dramatic interpretation by Adam Dengler, a member of the Cantari ensemble.
Movement 7 "Lux Aeterna," sung by the chorus, was shimmering with light, comfort and reassurance.
Soprano soloist Andrea Moore, well-known to local audiences, stepped in at the last minute for Jennifer Canada who, unfortunately, was ill. Moore's gorgeous soprano voice soared through the eighth movement; "I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes" (Psalm 121, KJV).
"In Paradisum – Requiescant in pace" is the final benediction - rest in peace summed up, with some extraordinary writing for organ and choir, the comfort, reassurance and hope of this lovely and moving work, fulfilled with the outstanding singing of Cantari.
How fortunate we are in the Triangle to have such musical treasures within easy reach.