The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Cantare Chorale of the Sierra Foothills
Testament of Freedom - May 11, 2013
by Dr. Robert M. Johnson
The Cantare Chorale held forth in a 4 o’clock concert Saturday, May 11, in the perfectly suited 100-seat recital hall at the Three Stages complex at Folsom Lake College. Cantare is an approximately 21-member chamber choir from El Dorado County. While the impetus for the concert was the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, the first half of the concert was a potpourri of choral selections. Then after intermission the repertoire focused on the Americana theme.
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The members of this ensemble are clearly committed to the art form: they were well rehearsed and did everything asked of them by music director Jeffrey Nelson. Dr. Nelson, a U.S. Army veteran, provided spoken program notes from the stage, and brought a touching pathos when discussing the patriotic selections. His was an easy, clear gesture throughout the afternoon, and his singers obviously hold him in great affection.
The choir was at its best when performing American popular repertoire. Kirby Shaw’s arrangement of When I fall in love was a particular stand out to end the first half. The choir’s easy tone, clear diction, and sensitive line all worked a little magic. Sweet Georgia Brown, also arranged by Shaw, was marked by excellent dynamic contrasts, a skill often missed in this repertoire. One might have asked for just a bit more “swing,” but it was still very enjoyable.
Although the choir provided lovely legato singing in the standard classical repertoire, there was an overall lack of attention to the purity of vowel in the Latin. Mozart’s Ave verum corpus, a treasure of the standard repertoire, was gracefully sung, particularly the sweet, clear soprano section. But the blatantly Americanized vowels were off-putting to the ear throughout. Far less often performed, the choir took up the challenge of the Gluck’s De profundis. The sustained lines and harmonic complexities can be daunting for any choir, and especially so for a smaller group. Cantare sang with confidence even in the most harmonically torturous moments. Though we Californians may think we speak with almost no accent, our habit of wide, shallow vowels and a tight jaw is antithetic to the best singing. These qualities were heard quite strongly in the Gluck.
The Americana half of the concert began with a curious selection considering the stated theme. I love the Luboff arrangement of Dixie, but was struck just a touch by the ironic nature of the text within the context of this concert. But it’s a great arrangement and was performed with no lack of passion and musicality. It was a rousing start to a parade of choral gems.
Local arranger David Preisinger provided Lord Jesus, Hear my cry. What a wonderful discovery, this beautiful arrangement was a perfect vehicle for Cantare’s lovely legato and attention to dynamics. Mr. Preisinger’s clever use of dynamic effect was bracing and engaging.
Another local arranger gave us Johnny Songs, consisting of Johnny has gone for a Soldier and When Johnny comes marching Home. The first was haunting, atmospheric, and especially evocative of the text. Soprano soloist Aundrea Schindler was perfect in setting the mood; hers is an especially pure, lyric voice. The setting of When Johnny comes marching Home was not quite as successful, but the material isn’t really as rich to start with.
No concert with the announced theme would be complete without an airing of Peter J. Wilhousky’s Battle Hymn of the Republic. I always have difficulty actually hearing the performance in front of me as I’m hearing a lifetime of performances in my head. It was a firm reading, though there were probably not enough singers to do it justice.
Dr. Nelson deserves kudos for programming Dan-u-el form Kirke Mechem’s 2008 opera John Brown. This composition is very tricky; harmonies and rhythms are unremittingly difficult. Soloist Bill Pearson did journeyman work in a part filled with potential pitfalls. The choir sang with poise and flair in this challenging and important piece.
The afternoon’s program concluded with the first movement of Randall Thompson’s The Testament of Freedom. The God who gave us life is a wonderful slice of Americana. Written originally for men’s voices and orchestra, Thompson recast it for mixed choir and piano. Cantare’s performance made one regret that they had not taken up the whole piece for this concert. Perhaps we can hear it next season?
Cantare Chorale is one of those wonderful ensembles working to provide positive singing opportunities to individuals and a rich musical experience to the community. Bravo, bravo, bravo.
Robert M. Johnson, artistic director of Capella Antiqua, is a native of Fairbanks, Alaska. He graduated from the University of the Pacific, Conservatory of Music with a B.Mu. in music education, and holds M.Mu. and D.M.A. degrees in choral music from Arizona State University. Dr. Johnson has held university faculty positions as far afield as South Korea and Puerto Rico, as well as teaching positions in California. He has lectured and performed actively, including the Carmel Bach Festival and the Oregon Bach Festival. His researches into Colonial Mexican music have been performed by choirs throughout the United States, and have made their way onto to a two-CD set entitled A Choir of Angels. He is also the chief scribe and editor of all the music presented by Capella Antiqua