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Greensboro's Parks and Recreation department doesn't focus only on the beauty and enrichment available outdoors. With the City Arts, they do a tremendous job of providing residents the opportunity to experience and participate in visual art, dance, theatre, and music – freely and openly!
Among the many ensembles managed by the City Arts Music Center, the Choral Society of Greensboro is one of the largest and finest. Membership naturally fluctuates, but with any given concert, listeners can expect to bathe in the rich and powerful sound of well over a hundred voices.
For their Fall concert the Choral Society added extra fire and color with organ, brass, and percussion. Set in the pristine acoustic of Greensboro's Christ United Methodist Church, this promised to be a real feast for the ears.
Opening the program was John Rutter's arrangement of "Now Thank We All Our God" by Johann Crüger. Rutter is one of the best-known living composers of sacred music, and this arrangement has all the hallmarks of his work: rich harmonizations, bright splashes of color from the accompanying instruments, and expert changes of mood and texture. The choir was visibly and audibly fired up by the music, and they filled the church with glorious but controlled sound.
Next was a setting of the Latin hymn "Tantum Ergo."
Throughout the evening, director Jon Brotherton offered the audience enlightening and sometimes funny insight into the program's repertoire. Of particular interest was the convoluted and shadowy history of this particular "Tantum Ergo" arrangement. Brotherton guided the audience through the piece's history: the 13th-cetury Latin text is by Aquinas, the 17th-century chorale melody by Georg Neumark, and the 18th-century harmonization by J.S. Bach. The mystery is who set the Latin text to Neumark's and Bach's music, which originally accompanied Neumark's text "If thou but suffer God to guide thee." Whoever the mixmaster, the piece was quite beautiful, and showed off the choir's softer side.
Contrasting the "Tantum Ergo" was the Kyrie from Louis Vierne's Messe solennelle. Vierne was organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame and is best known for his organ compositions. This setting of the Kyrie was gloriously powerful, utilizing CUMC's Fisk organ to its fullest potential. Organist André Lash made special use of the organ's trumpet stops. Set against the one-hundred-plus-voice choir, the organ had no trouble punching through with authority. Magnificent!
The evening's finest composition came from Johannes Brahms, in the form of his "Geistliches Lied" ("Sacred Song"). This masterpiece of polyphonic writing consists of two simultaneous canons. In lesser hands, this sort of composerly trickery could sound stiff and academic but, as Jon Brotherton so correctly observed, the audience hears delicate, effortless beauty rather than sophisticated counterpoint.
The Choral Society of Greensboro and the Music Center, and City Arts in general, are an incredible service to the Triad community. If you love making music, the Music Center provides many options, under expert guidance, in a variety of styles and formats, for free. If you'd rather just listen, you can do that, in glorious spaces, also for free. Whatever our individual opinions about the role of local government, Greensboro is a community that has been permanently and immeasurably enriched by its administration's investment in the arts. Go hear the Choral Society – you won't be disappointed!