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Dr. Sue T. Klausmeyer has been the music director and conductor of Voices/Cantari choruses (or their historical precursors) for eighteen years. There are two concerts remaining on this year's schedule: Voices on May 4 and Cantari on May 19. You may want to mark your calendar for she has announced her retirement to take place in June, 2018.
This concert was typical of Klausmeyer's clever and meaningful grouping of repertoire for concert presentation. "à la Française" was a selection of French choral masterworks from the Renaissance and the twentieth century.
Two motets by Claude Goudimel (1514-1572) opened the concert. Settings of Psalm 40 in homophonic style and Psalm 25 in the imitative weaving of counterpoint so familiar in the Renaissance were sung with welcoming rich modal harmony and beautiful balance of vocal textures. Sometimes it seems that this kind of music is the perfect employment of the human voice.
Claude Le Jeune (1528-1600) was a different sort of composer. He is best known for his secular chansons written mostly in homophonic style with unpredictable rhythms in a method known as musique mesurée which reflected the exact stress accents of the French language. "Revecy venir du printemps" (Behold the return of spring) is in four verses with refrain. A variety of solo ensembles from the chorus sang the verses providing variation of vocal structure, while the full chorus sang the refrain. It was a charming rendition by the chorus and the solo groups, all of them excellent.
The next selection took us, by a leap – though not a very big leap – to the 20th century. Frank Martin (1890-1974) wrote his Mass for Double Chorus in 1922 with the closing Agnus Dei added in 1926. It incorporates plainsong, modal harmony and Baroque counterpoint in an often ethereal and deeply personal way. When asked why he did not allow it to be publicly performed for nearly 40 years, he responded, "I considered it to be a matter between God and myself. I felt that a personal expression of religious belief should remain secret and hidden from public opinion."
Klausmeyer led Cantari in a warm and rich reading, with all of Martin's intricate interweaving balanced and flowing with expressive sensitivity. In the Kyrie, the triune appeal for mercy is heard first in a harmonic fanfare from soprano, to alto, to tenor in one choir, then building up from bass to tenor to alto in the other choir. The rich harmonic writing and the effective sensitive singing conveyed a begging appeal for mercy, almost demanding at its height, respectfully pleading at another place.
The Gloria was a magnificent expression of praise and worship. The complex choral counterpoint, especially from "Quoniam tu solus sanctus" to the end was outstanding.
The Credo started with a homophonic expression of faith. As it moved through the dogma, we heard sections of chanting, elements of awe expressing the nature of God, sadness as the Crucifixion is remembered, and pure overwhelming excitement as the Resurrection is noted. The final affirmations of oneness with Christ and hope in the resurrection is sealed with one ultrabright, full voiced "Amen."
The Sanctus reiterated the holiness of God and the power and might of the creator. A portion of this movement was reminiscent of patter type singing – getting out as many words as possible to illustrate how heaven and earth are full of His glory.
The choir's rendition of Agnus Dei sent us off with quiet reassurance and the confidence of peace. It seemed that this was music with which Cantari felt very much at home. They owned it and sang it from the heart.
Francis Poulenc's Quatre Motets pour le temps de Noël portrays four miniature views of the Nativity: the sacrament of the animals at the manger, the shepherds seeing the newborn, the wise men and their gifts, and the presence of the angels. Through the use of dynamics, tempo changes, and other musical devices, the composer provides an opportunity to portray the events of the nativity in wonderfully descriptive musical terms.
Gabriel Fauré wrote Cantique de Jean Racine for a student competition when he was twenty. It won the competition and has remained one of the most often performed pieces in the choral repertoire. We heard the organ accompaniment version with Susan Moeser at the organ. The performance was full of feeling and characterized by fine ensemble, balanced sonic projection, and most pleasant lyrical precision.
We will indeed miss Klausmeyer. At the same time, we wish her all the best in all her future endeavors. Her skills and her good taste in music will linger in our memory for a long time. This concert of French choral gems satisfied our longing for the gift of music for a little while. It was a gem of choral delight and masterful production.