Concert Singers' World Tour
by John W. Lambert
Over the years, we've savored some wonderful choral music here, thanks to our many fine choirs, great and small. Along the way, the "senior" groups – the NC Master Chorale (formerly the Raleigh Oratorio Society) and the Choral Society of Durham (formerly the Durham Civic Choral Society) have probably come in for more than their fair share of praise (and coverage, too), in part because they dominate the scene, to a certain extent, but also because they are so good and offer such good programs. There are of course other groups that merit attention, and it's a fact that the whole Triangle is a richer, better, happier place because of the work of all our choirs, which provide such fine opportunities for their members and such noteworthy enrichment of the lives of their audiences. Now as it happens, two somewhat younger groups are marking big anniversaries this season. We'll get to the Chapel Hill Community Chorus (which formerly had "Carrboro" as part of its name) next month, when they turn 25. For now, we shift our attention to another birthday group, the Concert Singers of Cary, which fields many more choruses than the others do and whose big choir is the equal – in terms of size and seriousness of purpose – of the old-guard ones. Take these four together and there's lots to celebrate, even before one starts pondering all the others – for an exhaustive list of which, we recommend the fine website TriangleSings!, at http://www.trianglesings.org/.
The Concert Singers of Cary fielded two of its choirs on November 12 in the capacious sanctuary of Westwood Baptist Church for the first of this season's fifteenth anniversary concerts, and it was a celebratory cork-popper, figuratively speaking, of course – given the venue. The subject was world music, and before you start huffin' and puffin' about "outreach," that favorite buzz-word of grantors, kindly recall that the groups are choirs and the music was all choral. And such wonderful music it was! The program encompassed sixteen works from all over, literally – from Cuba and the Dominican Republic and Aruba and Brazil, from Japan and China, from Russia, from Israel, from Africa, and from our own land. (To sidestep the challenge of listing all the works in the body of this review, which would leave little room for discussion, we'll give the complete program below.*) It may be worth noting that all this music except two spirituals was "new" to this listener, who has been involved in choral music since he was a soprano (long story...), and that in and of itself made this a truly exceptional evening. It wasn't that the composers or arrangers were unknown – names like Ernani Aguiar (composer of "Salmo 150") and Brent Michael Davids (composer of the Native American Suite, from which two sections were excerpted) turn up from time to time, and there were several pieces set by Moses Hogan, too. (There was also a very unusual, very strange Japanese piece – "Aki no ko-e" – by Jackson Hill, who was a grad student at UNC when I was there in the '60s.) But a concert of basically unknown choral music can be a real treat, especially when given with skill and commitment and as beautifully sung as this one was. The CSC's "small" group, the Chamber Choir (which, with around 50 singers, is larger than many local ensembles!), did the first several numbers, providing in the process great pleasure and impressing with their clear diction and outstanding balance and blend – qualities that were enhanced by the acoustics of the room. Projected translations helped the audience understand every word and phrase. It was a class act on a relatively intimate scale. And when the Chamber Choir was joined by the Symphonic Choir, well, they nearly overflowed their space, and they filled up the sanctuary with splendid and powerful singing. There aren't as many men as there are women – an opportunity lurks here for folks who might wish to take part in this ensemble – but aurally there were few problems, even in the sonorous richness of a piece by Alexander Nikolsky from a Russian vesper service.
Music Director Lawrence Speakman conducted and introduced many of the numbers. He has a way with a crowd, and his comments were right on the money. A lot of the program was a cappella, permitting listeners to savor the singers' special skills, but there were also some choice and unusual accompaniments – by percussionists Stephen Burke and John Fedderson (of the NC Symphony), a dazzling steel drum import, Tracy Thornton (from Greensboro), flutist Linda Metz, and pianist Linda Velto. Along the way, too, there were some fine soloists, all from the ranks of the choirs – which provides further testimony (if it is needed) of the overall excellence of these ensembles. They were Jane Muldoon-Smith (in the West African "It Takes a Village"), Connie Margolin and Bob Dey (in the Israeli "Mi Yitnení Of"), descant artist Lori Volpe (in "The Battle of Jericho"), and David Lee (in the soul-stirring, rafter-rattling encore, "Ev'ry Time I Feel the Spirit"). It was quite an evening.
The CSC's next program will be a joint concert with the Triangle Wind Ensemble on December 3. See our calendar for details, and make it a point to hear the CSC in its 15th anniversary season!
*Program: "World Music": Chamber Choir: Eduard Toppenberg/Rufo Odor: Balia Di Sehú (Let’s Dance the Sehú) (Aruba); Ernani Aguiar: Salmo 150 (Psalm 150) (Brazil); Jackson Hill: Aki no ko-e (Voices of Autumn) (Japan); David Mooney: Silent, O Moyle (Ireland); & Guido López-Gavilán: El Guayaboso (The Liar) (Cuba); & Symphonic Choir: Arr. Ralph Johnson: Praise the Lord (Cameroon); Joan Szymko: It Takes a Village (West Africa); Glenn McClure: St. Francis in the Americas: Kyrie (Caribbean); Brent Michael Davids: Native American Suite (Native America); Juan-Tony Guzman: Chanflín (Dominican Merengue) (Dominican Republic); Alexander Nikolsky: Gladsome Light (Russia): Arr. Audrey Snyder: Mí Yítnení Of (Who Will Give Me Wings) (Israel); Jing Ling Tam: Flower Drum Song (China); Trad./Moses Hogan) (Spiritual): The Battle of Jericho, & My Soul’s Been Anchored In the Lord (African-American); & [encore] Trad./William L. Dawson (Spiritual): Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit