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16 June 2013

REVIEW: Carrington Singers pair modern, sacred music beautifully

by Libby Hanssen (Kansas City Star)

The Simon Carrington Chamber Singers, now in their fifth year, displayed the maturity of a long-established group and the consistency of an ensemble that performs more often than once a year. But such is the case for this group, who gather from all over the United States for a week in Kansas City to rehearse, record and perform under the direction of acclaimed choral conductor Simon Carrington, co-founder of the King’s Singers.

The program, “Soul Mates,” paired traditional English sacred repertoire with modern pieces influenced by them. Friday night’s concert featured brilliant, illuminated singing and invigorating style contrasts, performed in the appropriately grand setting and lively acoustics of Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral.

They opened with William Byrd’s “Laudibus in Sanctis,” the rippling lines of the motet presented in a shimmering timbre by the high voices.

Another piece by Byrd, the solemn, quietly reflective “Ave Verum Corpus,” led into Steven Stucky’s “Whispers (After William Byrd),” separated by a breath. A quartet sang lines reminiscent of Byrd’s treatment, the chorus building from and surrounded those parts in a dense, harmonically darker soundscape. A similar pairing, this time with Orlando Gibbons’ “Almighty and Everlasting God” and Stucky’s “Drop, Drop, Slow Tears,” displayed even more contrast, with atmospheric tone cluster constructions and sliding microtones.

Henry Purcell’s anthem “Thou Knowest, Lord” was straightforward, yet prayerful, followed by Dominick DiOrio’s dramatic “Ode to Purcell,” with an organ-like texture punctuated by a soaring soprano solo.

This season’s composition competition winner, flanked by works from Hubert Parry and Zachary Wadsworth, was Daniel Elder’s “O Magnum Mysterium,” a modern setting of the sacred text and a powerful piece, its swirling lines rising through the texture like flocks of birds, heralding a triumphant fortissimo.

The high school master class ensemble offered a set of flower-inspired pieces: a professional rendition of Benjamin Britten’s “The Evening Primrose” and an energetic approach to Chen Yi’s “Mo Li Hua — Jasmine Flower,” with appropriately altered timbre. The Chamber Singers joined them for the dynamically exhilarating and texturally satisfying “A Spotless Rose” by Paul Mealor.

The rolling, overlapping lines of Ju-dith Bingham’s “Distant Thunder,” with exquisitely blended solos by sopranos Amy Waldron and Rebecca Duren, segued into Parry’s “My Soul, There is a Country” for the final pairing, with picturesque text treatment and an exciting elongated crescendo to the end. An encore of Paul Simon’s “Some Folks’ Lives Roll Easy” greeted the audience’s appreciative ovation.