The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Youth Choirs’ Winter Concerts this Sunday will explore links between science and music. Plus, the UW Wind Ensemble performs a FREE concert Thursday night.

December 10, 2015
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ALERT: Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Wind Ensemble will perform a FREE concert. The program features “Concerto X” by Scott McAllister with clarinet soloist Wesley Warnhoff, adjunct professor of clarinet. It is a work based on grunge music that was born in the heavy metal music of the late 80s and early 90s, including a melody from Nirvana’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” Also on the program is “In Wartime” by David Del Tredici, which was inspired by the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001; and the Second Suite in F Major for Military Band by Gustav Holst.

By Jacob Stockinger

A friend at Madison Youth Choirs writes:

On this Sunday, Dec. 13, the young singers of Madison Youth Choirs (MYC, seen below at the Winter Concert last year) will present the 2015 Winter Concert Series, “Inquiry: Science, Music, Imagination” at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Madison, 1609 University Avenue, near Camp Randall.

Madison Youth Choirs Winter Concert 2014

Over 14 weeks of rehearsals in preparation for the concerts, the 330 young vocalists (ages 7-18) in MYC’s nine performing choirs have been learning to use the tools of observation, experimentation, and analysis to reach a deeper understanding of their choral repertoire.

Students have also begun to recognize the role that resilience plays in both scientific and musical fields, learning how to work through moments of frustration and uncertainty to reach new discoveries.

The choirs will perform a varied program, including works by Benjamin Britten, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Vincent Persichetti; a Peruvian lament, a Spanish villancico, and a newly-created arrangement of the oldest-known surviving English song.

Tickets for each of the three concerts (high school ensembles at 1:30 p.m., boychoirs at 4 p.m., girlchoirs at 7 p.m.) will be $10 for general admission, $5 for students age 7-18 and free for children under 7.

Audience members will need a separate ticket for each concert.

Here is the schedule:

1:30 p.m. High School Ensembles featuring a guest appearance by the MYC-Capitol Lakes Intergenerational Choir

4 p.m. Boychoirs

7 p.m. Girlchoirs

Tickets available at the door, $10 for general admission, $5 for students 7-18, and free for children under 7

This concert is generously endowed by the Diane Ballweg Performance Fund with additional support from the American Girl’s Fund for Children, BMO Harris Bank, the Madison Community Foundation, and the Wisconsin Arts Board. 

Here is a repertoire list for the programs:

1:30 p.m. Concert (Featuring High School Ensembles)

Cantilena

Bel Tempo Che Vola ……………….Jean Baptiste Lully

Weep No More………………………..David Childs

Songbird…………………………………Sarah Quartel

Sound the Trumpet………………….Henry Purcell

When I Set Out for Lyonesse……Keith Bissell

Ragazzi (below in a photo by Karen Holland)

Regina Coeli (sung in Italian)……Gregorian chant, ca. 10th century

Regina Coeli (sung in Italian)……Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Song of Peace……………………………Vincent Persichetti

Dulaman (sung in Gaelic) …………Michael McGlynn

Madison Youth Choirs Ragazzi cr Karen Holland

Cantabile

Utopia………………………………………………………..Moira Smiley

Lacrimoso son io (K. 555, sung in Italian)…….Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The Gods Have Heard My Vows…………………….Thomas Weelkes

Palomita……………………………………………………..Traditional Peruvian lament

Hoj, hura, hoj!………………………………………………………..Omar Macha

Madison Youth Choirs Cantabile

Cantabile and Ragazzi

Apple-Tree Wassail………………………Stephen Hatfield

MYC/Capitol Lakes Intergenerational Choir and Combined Choirs

Forever Young……………………………..Bob Dylan

4 p.m. Concert (Featuring Boychoirs)

Combined boychoirs, Purcell, Britten, Holst, Ragazzi

Intonent Hodie…………………………………..Anonymous (probably 12th century)

Sainte Nicholaes (sung in Latin)…………..Godric of Finchale

Purcell

Singt den Herrn (sung in German)…Michael Praetorius

Who Can Sail……………………………..Norwegian Folk Song, Arr. Jeanne Julseth-Heinrich

Rolling Down to Rio……………………Edward German

Britten (below with Purcell Choir in a photo by Karen Holland)

Rattlesnake Skipping Song……Derek Holman

Tit-for-Tat…………………………….Benjamin Britten

Jerusalem……………………………..Sir Hubert Parry, poem by William Blake

Madison Youth Purcell and Britten Choirs cr Karen Holland

Holst (below with Pucell and Britten choirs in a photo by Karen Holland)

Riu Riu Chiu (sung in Spanish)….Anonymous, from Villancicos de diversos Autores

Anima Mea (sung in Latin)……….Michael Praetorius

The Sound of Silence…………………Paul Simon

Ragazzi

Regina Coeli (sung in Italian)………Gregorian chant, ca. 10th century

Regina Coeli (sung in Italian)………Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina

Song of Peace……………………………..Vincent Persichetti

Dulaman (sung in Gaelic) ……………Michael McGlynn

Combined boychoirs, Purcell, Britten, Holst, Ragazzi

Hava Nashira (sung in Hebrew)……….Traditional Hebrew canon

Madison Youth Choirs boychoirs Purcell, Britten and Holst CR Karen Holland

7 p.m. Concert (Featuring Girlchoirs)

Choraliers

Hava Nashira (sung in Hebrew)……….Traditional Hebrew canon

You’ll Never Guess What I Saw………….Ruth Watson Henderson

Suo Gan…………………………………..Welsh Lullaby, Arr. by Alec Rowley

Tailor of Gloucester…………………..English Folk Song, Arr. by Cyndee Giebler

Con Gioia (below in a photo by Karen Holland)

Donkey Carol………………………….John Rutter

Mid-Winter…………………………….Bob Chilcott

Fancie……………………………………Benjamin Britten

Madison Youth Choirs Con Gioia Karen Holland

Capriccio (below in a photo by Mike Ross)

Sound the Trumpet………………………………Henry Purcell

An die Musik (D. 547, sung in German, heard at bottom in a YouTube video with soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and pianist Gerald Moore)…..Franz Schubert

Palomita (sung in Spanish)……Traditional Peruvian lament, Arr. by Randal Swiggum

Niska Banja………………………….Serbian Gypsy Dance, Arr. by Nick Page

Madison Youth Choir Capriccio CR Mike Ross

About the Madison Youth Choirs (MYC): Recognized as an innovator in youth choral music education, Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) welcomes singers of all ability levels, annually serving more than 1,000 young people, ages 7-18, through a wide variety of choral programs in our community. Cultivating a comprehensive music education philosophy that inspires self-confidence, personal responsibility and a spirit of inquiry leading students to become “expert noticers,” MYC creates accessible, meaningful opportunities for youth to thrive in the arts and beyond.

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Classical music: The Madison Summer Choir will perform works by late German and English Romantic composers, including Brahms, Parry and Vaughan Williams, on this coming Saturday night.

June 22, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Madison Summer Choir write:

The Madison Summer Choir (below) is an auditioned choir of more than 70 voices performing a cappella, piano-accompanied and choral-orchestral works.

Madison Summer Choir

When the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music eliminated UW Summer Choir from its budget after 2008, Ben Luedcke (below) “picked up the baton” to ensure that this student and community singing opportunity and tradition were not lost.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

Now in its seventh summer, Luedcke continues to conduct the group, open to college students and community members, for just 14 rehearsals over six weeks, culminating in a full concert.

Existing just for this short season, the choir is supported by the singers, friends and businesses in the community, and the audience, as well as the UW-Madison School of Music rehearsal and concert facilities.

For this summer, the concert program features “The Searching Soul: German and Late-English Romanticism.” (Below is the famous Romantic painting used on the poster for the Madison Summer Choir this year.)

Madison Summer Choir 2015 theme

The concert will be presented on this coming Saturday evening, June 27 at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall of the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus at 455 North Park Street.

Tickets are $15 for the public; $10 for students. They can be purchased in advance (for delivery or will-call) from any choir member, or bought at the door.

The concert will open with two works by Johannes Brahms (below), “Nächtens” (At Night) and “Sehnsucht” (Longing).

brahms3

Those are followed by three movements by Sir Hubert Parry (below) in “Songs of Farewell (1916–1918)”: “My Soul There Is a Country,” “I Know My Soul Hath Power” and “Never Weather Beaten Sail.”

hubert parry

The second half features two choral works with orchestra. The Madison Summer Choir is the only ensemble performing full-scale choral and orchestral works in the summer in Madison.

Psalm 42” (1837-38) by Felix Mendelssohn is a cantata consisting of seven movements which include full choir, soprano solo, women’s choir, and a quintet of soprano solo with men’s chorus. Soprano soloist will be Chelsie Propst (below), who has performed with the choir twice before.

Chelsie Propst USE

The concert will conclude with “Toward the Unknown Region” (1907) by Ralph Vaughan Williams (below top), a setting of the text by Walt Whitman (below bottom). You can hear a massive performance of the work at the BBC Proms in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

Walt Whitman 2

Information on past concerts by the Madison Summer Choir and photos of the choir are on the website: www.madisonsummerchoir.org


Classical music: The early music group Eliza’s Toyes will explore music as medicine in a concert this Friday night at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

May 18, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friend Jerry Hui –- a supremely talented individual and graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who performs, composes and teaches at UW-Stout – sends the following word:

The Madison-based early music group Eliza’s Toyes (below top) has a concert this Friday night, May 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below bottom). The concert is titled “Music: The Miracle Medicine.”

eliza's toyes 2015

WID_extr11_1570

Here is an introduction to the program:

“Rediscover the integral role of music as the restorer of health in the early days of medical science during the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods.

“Music has been an integral part of our wellbeing. To this date, many listen to music for its power in relaxation, excitement, and even catharsis. The development of music therapy as a medical profession, as well as increasing research in the physiological and psychological effects of music, signifies our ongoing interest to understand and utilize music.

“As scientists continue to examine music in a utilitarian light, it is worthwhile for us to rediscover how human beings have historically viewed music and its connection with health.”

music and medicine clef

Tickets will be available at the door: $15 for the general public and $10 for students.

Here is the program, which is organized by theme, and which include singing i English, Latin, French, German and Spanish:

CONCERNING THE FOUR HUMORS

Vos flores rosarum  — Hildegard von Bingen (below top, 1098-1179)

Descendi in hortum meum — Cipriano de Rore

Absterge Domine (1575) — Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)

Turn Our Captivity (1611) — William Byrd (below bottom, 1540-1623)

ST. HILDEGARD OF BINGEN DEPICTED IN ALTARPIECE AT ROCHUSKAPELLE IN GERMANY

William Byrd

MIRACLES AND REMEDIES

Tantas en Santa María — (Cantigas de Santa Maria)

In principio erat Verbum (1566) — Orlando di Lassus (below, 1532-1594)

Caecus quidam (1558) — Hubert Waelrant (1518-1595)

Gehet hin und saget Johanni wieder — Melchior Franck (1579-1639)

Orlando di Lasso

PRACTICING MEDICINE

Le Tableau de l’Opération de la Taille (1725) — Marin Marais (below, 1656-1728; you can hear the piece, with a narration in French, in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Qui veut chasser une migraine — Gabriel Bataille

The nurse’s song — (Pills to Purge Melancholy)

A Wonder: The Physician — John Maynard

Marin Marais 2

GOOD HEALTH THROUGH GOOD LIVING

Chloe found Amyntas lying — (Pills to Purge Melancholy)

My fair Teresa — (Pills to Purge Melancholy)

O Sonno / Ov’e’l silenzio — Marco da Gagliano (1582-1643)

Cara mia Dafne — Lelio Bertani (1553-1612)

Sweet honey sucking bees — John Wilbye (1574-1638)

John Wilbye


Classical music: This will be an outstanding semester for piano fans in the area. But it starts with a “train wreck” this Friday night with dueling piano concerts by Christopher Taylor and Ilya Yakushev.

January 20, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

For piano fans, the first semester in Madison proved a bit underwhelming, even disappointing when compared to many past falls.

But that is about to change this semester, starting this weekend.

Of course this piano-rich week comes complete with the inevitable piano “train wreck,” as The Wise Critic terms such scheduling conflicts and competition.

Farley's House of PIanos MMM 20141

CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR OR ILYA YAKUSHEV

For many area listeners, the big annual piano event is on this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. That is when the UW-Madison School of Music virtuoso Christopher Taylor (below) — whom The Ear hears other schools are trying to lure away from the UW — performs his annual solo faculty recital.

Taylor, famed for his prodigious technique and fantastic memory, has won praise nationwide and even internationally for his performances of all kinds of difficult music, from Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven to Olivier Messiaen and Gyorgi Ligeti as well as contemporary musicians like Derek Bermel.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Taylor’s program this time is an unusual one that mixes old and new.

It features another of the dazzling two-hand transcriptions by Franz Liszt of the symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven, which Taylor has been performing elsewhere in a cycle. This time he will perform the famous Symphony No. 6 in F Major, “Pastoral.”

Also on the program are seven of the 12 etudes by the contemporary American composer William Bolcom, who taught at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and the Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5, by Johannes Brahms — a wondrously dramatic and beautiful work that you can hear performed by Van Cliburn International Piano Competition winner Radu Lupu in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Tickets are $10 and benefit the UW-Madison School of Music Scholarship Fund.

For more information, including some national reviews of Taylor, here is a link to the UW website:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/christopher-taylor-piano-faculty-recital/

But, as I said, there is a problem.

At exactly the same time on Friday night, in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, is a terrific concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev (below), who last performed Prokofiev and Gershwin concertos with the WCO.

This Friday night’s program includes Yakushev in two well-known concertos: the keyboard concerto in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor by Felix Mendelssohn.

ilya yakushev 3

Also on the program – typically eclectic in the style that conductor Andrew Sewell (below) favors — is the English Suite for Strings by British composer Paul Lewis and the Chamber Symphony No. 2 by Arnold Schoenberg.

For information, go to: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/77/event-info/

andrewsewell

But this piano weekend doesn’t stop there.

On Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., Ilya Yakushev will open the new season of the Salon Piano Series when he plays a solo recital in the concert room (below) at Farley’s House of Pianos, on Madison’s far west side.

The program includes the famous Sonata in C minor “Pathétique,” Op. 13, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the Sonata No. 2 by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev and “Carnival” by Robert Schumann. A reception will follow the recital.

Farley Daub plays

Here is a link with more information:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

And as background, here is a Q&A that The Ear did in 2011 with Ilya Yakushev:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/classical-qa-russian-pianist-ilya-yakushev-discusses-prokofiev-and-gershwin-which-he-will-play-at-the-opening-concert-of-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-on-friday-night/

ilya yakushev mug

MORE TO COME

Of course this is just the beginning of Piano Heaven.

There is still the concerto competition for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) to come, along with the UW-Madison concerto competition, the Bolz “Final Forte” Concerto Competition of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and others.

Later this semester, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will also feature two other returning pianists –- Shai Wosner (below top) and Bryan Wallick (below bottom). They will perform, respectively, two concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn and the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major “Emperor” by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Shai Wosner Photo: Marco Borggreve

Bryan Wallick mug

Here is a link to the WCO website:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/

And let’s not forget the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to the above piano events and others, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will feature the Irving S. Gilmore Competition winner Ingrid Fliter (below), a native of Argentina, in the lusciously Romantic Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor by Frederic Chopin on Feb. 13-15 – perfect fare for Valentine’s Day weekend.

Ingrid Fliter playing

That program which also includes the Symphony No. 4 by Robert Schumann and British composer Benjamin Britten’s “Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge” -– Bridge was Britten’s teacher — promises to be a memorable performance by a renowned Chopin specialist who last played a solo recital here ay the Wisconsin Union Theater.

And if you know of more. just add them in a Reader’s Comment for others to see,

 

 


Classical music: The Ear likes very old Christmas music more than newer music. What do you prefer?

December 22, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Each year in the Madison area there are so many wonderful concerts with holiday themes performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Choral Project, the Madison Bach Musicians, Edgewood College and by many, many others  that you just can’t get to all of them.

And it doesn’t help if you have a winter cold or aren’t feeling well, as happened this year to The Ear.

But I did get to two memorable performances.

The first was the terrific annual Choral Prism holiday concert (below) put on at Luther Memorial Church by various choirs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. They performed under several conductors, including Beverly Taylor, Bruce Gladstone, Anna Volodarskaya and Sara Guttenberg.

UW Prism 2014 singers 1

UW Prism 2014 crowd

The second was the satisfying “Welcome Yule” concert at Grace Episcopal Church by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir under conductor Robert Gehrenbeck, who also teaches at the UW-Whitewater.

WCC Welcome Yule 2014

Both events were excellent, and drew full and enthusiastic houses.

A lot of beautiful music in a wide variety of styles was offered by each of the two groups. That included homages to the St. Paul, Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus (below), who died at 64 this past year and who had close ties to Madison’s vocal groups that commissioned and performed his music. And because programs strive for ethnic diversity today, spirituals and jazz arrangements were also included. (I often cringe when I see something has been “arranged.”)

stephen paulus

But when all was said and done, the “winners” so to speak –- for The Ear at least -– were the old ones. I mean the very old ones, generally those works dating from the Medieval period and Renaissance period over the Classical, Romantic, Modern and Contemporary eras with the Baroque falling somewhere in between.

Why did I like the old music so much?

One reason was the performances. The straight-ahead singing, mostly a cappella or unaccompanied but sometimes with a bit of percussive drum or lyrical harp added, was much more convincing than when I saw modern largely white singers stiffly swaying and awkwardly stomping their feet and clapping the hands to get into the swing of things and show some unconvincing imitation of gospel singing.

But I started thinking.

Maybe it goes back to the Bible and that old verse about “The Word made Flesh.”

That seems a much more successful formula for effective Christmas music than the modern approach, which I am starting to think of as “The Flesh made Word.”

That means that what gets to me is the very simplicity, the strength of the rhythms and melodies as well as the simpler harmonies and compositional techniques.

Simpler is simply better. No better proof was offered that a souped-up jazz arrangement of “Silent Night.” That venerable and quietly emotional carol cannot be improved upon by complicating it. Keep it simple. That seems to be the way to go. Another case of inferior “arranging,” I am afraid.

I think of the old Medieval hymns about a mother simply rocking her baby Jesus to sleep as she sings to him. Can there be anything more touching or poignant, more to the point or direct, especially at a historical period when there was no nighttime lighting and so many babies died.

More than nostalgia, such music offers the art of reducing things to the essential. And the essential, as the old composers seemed to know, is often the path to the universal.

Of course, the plain song or chant-like harmonies also add to the appeal.

But it still goes back to simplicity of the act and the simplicity of the metaphor.

That is why the great 20th-century modern English composer Benjamin Britten (below) used so many older carols in his “Ceremony of Carols” to such great effect.

Benjamin Britten

That is also why 100 times out of 100 I will prefer the simple 16th-century German tune “Lo how a Rose Ere Blooming” (at bottom in a YouTube video) over, say, the long and tedious “Magnificat” No. 20 with its overworked harmonies and complexities for chorus and organ by another 20th-century English composer Herbert Howells (below).

herbert howells autograph

What do you make of the old music versus new music debate when it comes to holiday music?

Do you agree or disagree with The Ear?

And what is your favorite local holiday concert  to recommend for next year?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir turns in an outstanding performance of music by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams and his musical “friends.” But the fine singing deserved an orchestra, not just organ and violin, for the famous Serenade to Music.

June 3, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John Barker

By John W. Barker

Robert Gehrenbeck and his Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) gave an entirely English choral program as the conclusion of their season on last Saturday night.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir with Gehrenbeck RWV

And, despite the heat, and the frightfully uncomfortable pews of Grace Episcopal Church on the Square — not to mention the competition of the Con Vivo chamber music concert — a considerable audience turned out to hear it.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir RVW audience

The program took as its theme “Ralph Vaughan Williams (below, 1872-1858) and Friends,” highlighting the work of one of the most important composers of the 20th century, but one whose music still has not been taken up sufficiently in our country. (When was the last time you heard one of the great nine symphonies of “VW” played by an American orchestra?)

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

The beginning of the program was rightly dominated by Vaughan Williams. After an elaborate Psalm setting, titled “A Choral Flourish,” a Latin motet by Thomas Tallis (below, ca.1505-1585) provided context for VW’s great a cappella Mass in G Minor—though, alas, only its first two movements. Like the composer’s famous Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, the writing cleverly opposes soloists, and small and larger groupings against each other. (I note for the record that there were a few moments of intonation problems.)

Thomas Tallis

Next came an English hymn by Imogen Holst (below top, 1907-1984), daughter of VW’s dear friend and colleague, Gustav Holst, and an anthem from an Anglican service by Herbert Howells (below bottom, 1892-1983), one of VW’s devoted disciples.

Imogen Holst

herbert howells autograph

The “Psalm tune” by Thomas Tallis (if with a modernized English text imposed) was a noteworthy gem, familiar, of course, as the subject for VW’s Tallis Fantasia, already mentioned, followed naturally by another of VW’s elaborate settings of Psalm 90, “Lord, Thou has been our refuge”—again, a piece that juxtaposed a small group (vocal quartet, below) against a larger (full choir).

Wisconsin Chamber Choir RVW 4 solists

Following the intermission, three of VW’s arrangements of examples from his favorite source, English folksongs, these about sailors.

There followed the one serious mistake of the program: VW’s Serenade to Music. This is a lovely setting of Shakespeare’s wonderful tribute to music in lines from Act V of The Merchant of Venice. It was composed in 1938 to honor conductor Sir Henry Wood and his orchestra, featuring 16 singers with whom he had worked. VW allowed the 16 solo lines to be adapted for full chorus, and Gehrenbeck’s compromise was to have 13 singers in the choir sing specifically solo lines, while their joint parts were taken by the full choir.

shakespeare BW

It was a shaky compromise, hindered by the fact that some of the choir soloists were not quite equal to their assigned solos. Most disastrous of all, however, was the substitution for the orchestral role of a solo violin and organ.

Violinist Leanne League (below top), who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, fiddled very beautifully, and organist Mark Brampton Smith (below bottom) played well. But violin and organ do not an orchestra make. This piece just should not have been attempted this way in this program. (You can hear an orchestral version of The Serenade to Music, with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult,  at the bottom in a YouTube video. Be sure to read the listener comment about the Serenade to Music reduced Sergei Rachmaninoff to tears.)

Wisconsin Chamber Choir RVW Leanne League

Mark Brampton Smith

Two short and supposedly humorous pieces about animals, composed by Elizabeth Maconchy (below, 1907-1994) were awfully trivial: I would gladly have sacrificed them for the rest of the Vaugah Williams’ Mass in G Minor.

elizabeth maconchy

Finally, to restore some balance, there were three folksong arrangements by Gustav Holst (below, 1874-1934) himself—the last of them, the “Blacksmith’s Song,” familiar to many in its alternate treatment as a movement in Holst’s Suite No. 2 for Band.

Gustav Holst

One thing that concerned me throughout was the question of section organization. Up to Imogen Holst’s piece, the chorus was grouped by voice parts. But thereafter the singers were repeatedly scrambled, breaking down such part groupings. This is a practice now favored by many choral directors, who will use the argument, among others, that such scrambling furthers blending.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir RVW mixed up

But blending can be achieved at the price of structural clarity. In much of the program’s music there was a great deal of unison writing, or very simple chordal writing, and the strength derived from the blending was truly powerful.

But in other cases, the interaction of parts was muddled. The prime example was the sturdy Tallis Psalm: its “tune” is in the tenor part, which should have had a united prominence but was instead dispersed and diluted.

I have raised this issue before, and I will continue to do so, no doubt to much scoffing.

That issue aside, the program demonstrated the wonderful choral sound that Gehrenbeck (below) has developed with these 33 singers. They sing their hearts out for him, but in suavely balanced ensemble that is a joy to hear.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

It is clear by now that Gehrenbeck, who directs choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, has set a new standard for choral singing in Madison, and has a lot to offer us in times ahead.

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