The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble gives its last concert of the summer this afternoon at 3 with music of Brahms, Bruckner, Josquin des Prez, Rachmaninov and Andrew Rindfleisch. Don’t miss this annual treat. | August 3, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Utevsky. The young violist and conductor will be a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which will perform the second concert of its fourth season on Friday, Aug. 22, at 7:30 p.m., in Music Hall. Utevsky is also the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra. The ensemble has a website here (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a review of this weekend’s concert by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.

The Ear immediately took him up on the offer. After all, Utevsky is a discerning listener and a perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour three summers ago with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below):

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Utevsky

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below), now in its 13th season with founder Scott MacPherson, delivered a polished and professional concert Friday night at Christ Presbyterian Church.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble group concert dress

The performance opened with a wrenching rendition of Imant Raminsh’s “Come, my Light,” followed by a pure and beautiful “Hear My Prayer” by Henry Purcell (below).

purcell

Two back-to-back settings of “Mille regretz,” the first by Josquin des Prez (below top) and the second by University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate Andrew Rindfleisch (below bottom), made for an interesting comparison — Rindfleisch produced an introspective, dark reading, while Josquin’s famous setting was ably rendered beside it as well.

Josquin Des Prez

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

The crown jewel of the first half was the final motet by Johannes Brahms (below), the anguished, searching “Warum ist das Licht gegeben?” (Why Is the Light Given to Those In Misery?, which can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom).

In four movements, this motet is, apart from the “German Requiem,” which the IVE has announced they will perform — with orchestra — for their 15th season in 2016, Brahms’ greatest choral work, with densely chromatic lines and twisting, intricate counterpoint. The chorus dug into this tremendously difficult music with gusto, singing with a complex and varied sound and excellent blend.

brahms3

The second half began with a work by Anton Bruckner (below), “Virga Jesse floruit,” another German masterwork, again sung with a secure sound and attention to the drama of the composer’s setting.

Anton Bruckner 2

“Tebe poyem” (from the Orthodox liturgy) by Sergei Rachmaninov (below top) was my favorite piece on the concert, displaying a depth and richness of sound surpassing anything else on the program. The solo line by Chelsea Propst (below middle) soared over the chorus, whose basses rose to the challenge of Rachmaninov’s tremendously low writing with aplomb. Another Russian work captured much of the same magic, “Ne riday Mene, Mati” by Alexander Gretchaninov (below bottom).

Rachmaninoffold

Chelsie Propst USE

Alexander Grechaninov in 1912

Lionel Daunais (below), a French-Canadian composer and singer, produced a comic treat in his “Figures de danse,” a suite of six hilarious settings of short, original poems about dancers and theater performers. The only work with piano on this program (with a difficult and prominent part performed excellently by Jane Peckham), these little vignettes had the audience in stitches.

Lionel Daunais

The concert concluded with two spiritual settings by Moses Hogan. The first was a soulful solo rendition of “There’s a Man Goin’ Round,” sung by Kathleen Otterson (below), who teaches at Edgewood College, over the hummed accompaniment from the chorus.

Kathleen Otterson 2

The second was a rapid-fire, high-energy “Elijah Rock” to close out the evening. (A humorous encore will remain unidentified — go hear the repeat Sunday to find out what it was!)

My only programming regrets were the absence of any works between Purcell and Brahms — surely that two-century gap must have yielded some works worthy of inclusion! — and the preponderance of Christian sacred music.

Certainly it forms the backbone of the choral literature, but on a program of 11 works (if “Mille regretz” is to be counted twice), to have only three (again, including the above twice) works that were not both sacred and Christian seems striking, especially for a chorus with no religious affiliation. A little more diversity in selection would be welcome on both counts.

 

Throughout the performance, the chorus (below top) sung with clear diction and strong sound, rising to the technical challenges of every work with apparent ease. IVE founder and conductor Scott MacPherson (below bottom, conducting a rehearsal), who teaches at Kent State University and is a UW-Madison graduate, directed with energy and excitement, and the chorus clearly responded.

Isthmus vocal Ensemble men

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing with Scott MacPherson

Despite its once-a-year schedule, this group is clearly a Madison fixture, and thoroughly earned their full house and standing ovation Friday night.

The performance will be repeated this afternoon, Sunday, August 3, at 3 p.m. in the Covenant Presbyterian Church (below) on 326 South Segoe Road. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 students and seniors. Children 12 and under are admitted free.

Covenant Presbyterian Church chancel

 

 

 

 

 

 

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