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What group of thirty-five has lately banished the chill of a Raleigh winter’s evening with some sixteen stylish choral numbers, performing said feat in the handsome and spacious sanctuary of Tabernacle Baptist Church? Give up? That would be the Wingate University Singers & Chamber Choir, under the taut guidance of conductor Kenney Potter.
The elegance of the musical offerings was telegraphed early as the disciplined singers opened with Canadian composer Christine Donkin’s reverent “In Paradisum” (2008), and the vigorous “I Will Greatly Rejoice” by Norwegian Knut Nystedt (b. 1915). The sublime “Ecce Dedi Verba Mea” (Behold I have given my words…) by Richard Burchard (b. 1960) continued the level of refinement that characterized the evening’s selections – numerous contemporary works without a hint of tawdry trendiness. (And, contributing mightily toward praiseworthy precision, all selections were performed from memory.)
The Chamber Choir took the audience back four hundred years with a pair of sixteenth century contemporaries, Byrd (“I Will Not Leave You Comfortless”) and Monteverdi (“O Jesu Mia Vita”). These demanding pre-Bach masterpieces received the precision and warmth accorded the modern numbers. These same reduced forces brought clear diction to Michael Mills’ (b. 1985) non-traditional setting of “Crossing the Bar.” The treatment was exalted enough that one could overlook the inclusion of a couple of gratuitous lines that the composer added to Tennyson’s original poem depicting the soul’s final journey.
To give the rest of the singers a breather, spirited alto soloist Hallie Yamamoto and supportive accompanist Meagan Balsom entertained with a pleasing entr’acte.
The sopranos shone brightly in Josef Rheinberger’s “Abendlied” (Bide with us, for evening shadows darken…). The singers dropped a bit of formality as they declared, “We gonna have a good, good time Way Over in Beulah Lan’… Oh, we gonna walk dem golden streets…” The tenors were on fine display in the Alice Parker arrangement of the early American traditional “Wondrous Love.” The group offered an early music lesson in shape-note singing with the ancient “Greenwich” from the Sacred Harp hymnbook.
In the only departure from their excellent a cappella style, the singers employed a fine pianist from the group, Oscar Hernandez, as an equal partner for an imaginative pairing. The Brahms challenging “O Schöne Nacht” (O Lovely Night) segued gracefully into “Sure on this Shining Night” (of starmade shadows round…), Morten Lauridsen’s setting of lines by James Agee.
The helpful brochure/program notes document did not mention any dance curriculum at Wingate, but gifted choreographers must have been employed to enhance the closing crowd-pleasers of South African origin. Peter Louis van Dijk contributed “Horizons” (Sleep, my springbok baby…). Traditional pieces, “Ngesi s’ponono” (I have a sweetheart in Durban), “Walk in the Light,” and a Namibia march concluded the celebration. Percussive accompaniment comprised finger snapping, hand clapping, foot stomping, gyrating, rocking and spinning. Setting the pace was the djembe, a tomtom-like instrument that must have inspired that early “jazz poet,” Vachel Lindsay.
Next time you see Kenney Potter, thank him for assembling such a consistently graceful selection of choral works. Enlist his services as repertory consultant to legions of choral directors across the land.