The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Salut Printemps! - May 4, 2013
by Dick Frantzreb
This concert, translating the title, was a welcome to spring. And it began with the usual warm greeting by Music Director and Conductor, Dr. Chris Alford. Later in the program he said, “You are our honored guests tonight; we’ve been working weeks for you.” His demeanor throughout the concert emphasized that he really meant this, and the work of chorus members and director was evident in the quality of their execution.
The first piece, “How Can I Keep from Singing” was performed with confidence and with a sound that was as bright as the women’s colorful tops. The joyfulness they projected was absolutely infectious and a good way to start any program. Throughout the concert, they produced a strong, unified, controlled sound – almost enough to make me give up my prejudice for men’s voices. I perceived a good tone from each section, but at the last Chanteuses concert I attended, I remember noting the exceptional quality of the high sopranos. Maybe it had something to do with where I was sitting, but this time I was surprised and impressed by the rich alto sound.
About half of the music was performed a cappella. That was true of “Cantate Domino,” which had a pleasing ensemble sound, crisp and energetic. The Duruflé motets (of which there were only two, contrary to what the program says) were also performed a cappella. The neoclassical sound of the latter pieces was a contrast to the style of the former, both hinting at the versatility of this chorus.
We got some background on “Les Angélus” from a chorus member, including the advice to “listen for the bells.” Although I never perceived the "bells," it was still a useful introduction because the piece required greater concentration by the audience, with a lot going on vocally. It must have been particularly challenging to sing. “Salut Printemps!” also by Debussy, was explained as a “word painting” and it, too, appealed to a more sophisticated musical taste.
The next piece, “A Girl’s Garden,” surprised me with its sharp articulation and delightful energy, complemented by excellent piano work. The articulation was especially important because the words in this Robert Frost poem came thick and fast. And the piece must have been especially fun to sing because there were smiles all around.
Another of my favorite pieces in this concert was “My Love Walks in Velvet.” I couldn’t help but notice the good technical execution: nice legato on the slurred notes, sensitive piano playing, variety in the dynamics, etc. But apart from the fact that it was an interesting composition in itself, I was lulled by the moody, plaintive singing, and then jolted by the occasional explosions of sound: it was quite a ride.
The last two pieces of the first half of the concert introduced the addition of Julie Hochman's cello to Samantha Arrasmith’s piano accompaniment. Of these, “Deep River” has been a favorite of mine since my childhood, and I wasn’t disappointed by this beautiful, rich arrangement that was performed so expressively.
The second half of the program began with the Venezuelan “Yo Le Canto Todo el Dia.” Why, I asked myself, had these women exchanged their hand-held music portfolios for music stands? So their hands would be free! This rhythmic and lilting piece involved pretty complex clapping patterns. You could see from the singers’ faces how much fun they were having, a sense shared by those of us in the audience.
I might mention here that a lot of this concert felt like a trip around the world, with songs that essentially represented Germany, France, Venezuela, Hungary, Israel, South Africa, and Mexico – as well as different periods and styles of American music. Some of these pieces made special demands on the singers to articulate, sometimes very rapidly, foreign-language lyrics. Even the English translations of the spirited Hungarian folk songs presented a challenge – and the enjoyment the singers got from meeting that challenge was evident in their animated expressions. There was an extra bit of humor in “Gabi, Gabi,” as Alford, himself playing a drum while directing the piece, started and stopped it several times to add percussionists recruited from the audience.
“Las Amarillas” was a return to singer-produced percussion: complex clapping and thigh-slapping patterns. This was done while singing the Spanish lyrics at a fast tempo. And different voice sections were singing different lyrics with different clapping patterns – simultaneously! It clearly required intense concentration – and the performance was as enjoyable to watch as to listen to.
The program began winding to a close with two spirituals – “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?” and “Wade in the Water.” These were presented in interesting, dynamic arrangements, and I think I can say that listening to them was actually exciting. The last piece on the program was Randall Thompson’s well-known “Alleluia.” It’s a novelty in that “alleluia” is the only word in this piece, which can run for 6 minutes or more. And during that time there are lots of dynamic highs and lows and tempo changes, as well as many, many variations in the way that word is sung. It requires great concentration, and that was evident in the intensity displayed by the Chanteuses singers. It paid off because in this piece especially, they demonstrated the good blend that they’re capable of and the phrasing that is necessary to make this piece work. The whole thing was performed with great artistry.
After the audience expressed its appreciation for an excellent, diverse and engaging concert, there was one thing more. Alto II Jan Truesdail was retiring from the group, and they didn’t want to let that fact go without a tribute. So Alford had her sit on a chair facing the chorus as they sang the traditional “Irish Blessing.” It was a touching moment, which we were glad to share, especially those of us who have seen many Chanteuses concerts, with Jan playing a prominent part.