//Ad libs: An evening with Chanticleer, and PWC

Thursday, December 11, 2008

An evening with Chanticleer, and PWC

I’ve seen Chanticleer perform about five times in recent years, and I’m always transported. Last night's concert at MemChu was the best I’ve ever heard.

All evening, the singers had exquisite harmonies and a clarity of tone as pure as the surface of a lake. Every song made me catch my breath. It’s a pleasure to initiate a newcomer, too; my mother had never heard Chanticleer before, and she listened as silently as a rapt child throughout. It was a nice role reversal.

I knew the concert would be special when the 12 singers entered in groups carrying candles, singing the 15th-century “Veni, veni Emmanuel.” Each group had such a flawless blend that at first I thought only one man was singing. Any choral singer can tell you how difficult that is.

Other works of early music, the hymn “Adeste Fideles,” and the syncopated, dance-like Spanish "Serenissima una noche" were among the selections in the first act folding easily together, each piece highlighted by the obvious joy the men take in their music. So many classical concerts are smothered with stillness and poker faces. Here, the men wore smiles or looks of rapture at what seemed like favorite passages. One appeared captivated by three soloists at one point, his eyes half-closed. All the singers do a sprightly toe hop before bowing.

My favorite choral experience anywhere, at any time, is Chanticleer singing Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria.” Three soloists and the rest of the choir pass the melodic, warm music back and forth as though handling a beloved flag. The piece is a regular in the group's repertoire, but you wouldn’t have known that by last night’s performance. The men sang it with veneration and discovery, as though it were the first time. I didn't think they'd mind that I got choked up.

Here's a taste of Chanticleer singing "Ave Maria":

My only critique of the concert: I wanted more solos from bass Eric Alatorre, he of the elaborate mustache. His resonant voice is such a delightful contrast to the sopranos and altos.

Still, I greatly enjoyed the soprano voice of Chanticleer’s newest member, Gregory Peebles. In “My Soul Magnifies the Lord Op. 40, No. 1” by Pavel Chesnokov, which the program notes describe as “a type of soloistic arioso accompanied by choir,” Peebles set a gentle vibrato free-flying up into heights most men could never dream of.

This was my second choral concert in a week. Last Saturday I was at the
Peninsula Women's Chorus winter performance at St. Mark's. A couple of the pieces were a bit quirky for my taste, but I was taken with the seven movements of Veljo Tormis's "Autumn Landscapes." The PWC often sings the works of this Estonian composer.

I enjoyed the atmospheric feel of the pieces. The chorus' deft control of dynamics added to the drama, and I could feel the melancholy of falling leaves, the billowing of the wind.

The PWC repeats
the program this Saturday at Santa Clara University at 8 and this Sunday at St. Patrick's Seminary at 3. And Chanticleer is performing all over the place in California over the next few weeks.

Photo from http://www.stanford.edu/group/religiouslife/memchu.html