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REVIEW: The creative soul of choral music


Ruth Carver


The Simon Carrington Chamber Singers crossed the continent to meet in Kansas City and Lawrence once again, presenting a concert of beautifully performed, imaginatively programmed choral music that juxtaposed the old and the new and featured the group’s characteristic pure blend and top-tier musicianship.

This weekend's "Soul Mates" concert had the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers exploring the more creative side of choral composition and programming with a highly-varied concert of paired standards and modern interpretations. With their utterly expressive pure choral blend, the Singers did all of the composers justice and also inspired the next generation in their partnership with local high school singers. Gathered here from across the nation for only a week, the SCCS is a highlight of the Kansas City choral and composition music scene, and brings superlative talent and compositional invention to audiences here.

The concept of the program paired old classics by composers like William Byrd and Henry Purcell with new interpretations by modern composers. The contrasts in voicing, harmonic and tonal language, sacred and secular texts, all brought to life by this wonderful choir made each piece come alive in a new way and made for a thoroughly inspired and inspiring performance. The SCCS did what they do best in single selections by Byrd (Laudibus in sanctis) and the great Anglican church composer CHH Parry ("There is an old belief" fromSongs of Farewell), merging their voices in a perfectly-balanced blend and constantly bringing the composers' musical ideas to life through terraced entrances, echoes, impeccable tuning, and seamless phrasing. These are the basics of choral writing, and Carrington has an effortless way of leading his choir through the music so that the phrases leap off the page.

The concert also included the winning result of the fourth SCCS Composers Competition, Daniel Elder's setting of O magnum mysterium, which instilled this ancient sacred text with the modern, trance-like and almost electronic sound of hums and "ooos" in oscillating and scalar patterns. The opening flurry of notes gave way to beautiful fragments of melody as the words entered, and the final "alleluia" climaxed with amazing, widely-spaced and rich chords, which left the audience immediately applauding for the young composer.

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steven Stucky's Whispers was paired with Byrd's Ave verum corpus, and his Drop, drop, slow tears with Orlando Gibbons' Almighty and everlasting God. Stucky's works both built on the gorgeous polyphony of Byrd and Gibbons' styles and added more modern tonal language and effects. Whispers features fabulously dissonant murmurs and a wall of sound as the singers suddenly sing the Walt Whitman text describing "great cloud-masses" and a solo quartet singing the Byrd tune, ghost-like in the background. Lindsey Lang's "O dulcis, O pie" emerged like a flickering light against the dark background of the rest of the choir repeating Whitman's final line: "appearing and disappearing." Stucky's Gibbons adaptation is a brilliantly constructed and imaginative take on the text-painting of Gibbons' Renaissance era, with aleatoric sections and eerie tone clusters contrasting and merging with the tonal polyphony of Gibbons' motet. Similarly brilliant effects were achieved in Dominick DiOrio's Ode to Purcell, which combines a Gerard Manley Hopkins text and re-envisioned music by Henry Purcell. This is a wonderful depiction of the poet struggling with great spiritual questions, as Blythe Hopson's intoned alto solo stood poignantly alone against the texture of the choir and a solo quartet singing Purcell's Funeral Sentences.

Local high school singers performed Benjamin Britten's "The Evening Primrose" from Five Flower Songs and Chen Yi's Mo li Hua - Jasmine Flower admirably on their own, and were joined by the full SCCS on Paul Mealor's luminous "A Spotless Rose" from Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal. Judith Bingham's combination of a Robert Bridges text and the sacred text "Nunc dimittis" in Distant Thunder closed with absolutely angelic solos by Rebecca Duren and Amy Waldron singing "lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel," and the choir's final chord was a quick, beaming climax of vibrant sound. The choir encored a lovely arrangement of Paul Simon's "Some Folks' Lives Roll Easy," with an effortless and soulful solo by tenor Jonathan Thomas and soprano Kayleigh Aytes's sweet and innocent soprano. Carrington's thoughtful program was a rousing and spectacular showcase of musical talent and invention, full of vocal expression and compositional originality at its finest.  

Simon Carrington Chamber Singers
Soul Mates
Friday, June 14, 2013 (Reviewed)
Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral
415 W. 13th St., Kansas City, MO
Saturday, June 15, 2013
Corpus Christi Catholic Church
6001 Bob Billings Parkway, Lawrence, KS

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