I heard Cantori in a concert called *Farewell To Sorrow* on 3/9/19. They’re a chorus with about 40 singers conducted by Mark Shapiro. The program was built around seven songs by Francis Poulenc, which were written as a set, but Shapiro chose to perform in the context of other pieces (I’ve listed the full program below).
The concert started with a piece for violin and piano written by Michel Colombier, played by violinist Gregory Harrington (who also did the arrangement) and pianist Mark Shapiro. It had a ponderous aura. It sounded like the tinny score to a second rate Visconti knock-off movie from the 70s.
The Poulenc was well done but a little tentative. The music is full of dissonances, and I think Cantori added a few of their own. These pieces are very challenging and have to be performed with absolute accuracy and conviction, plus that elusive silky sheen of the French.
The highlight of the concert was the New York premiere of *La canción desesperada* by Donald Grantham. It’s a large-scale piece, a setting of poems by Pablo Neruda, written for mixed chorus plus violin and soprano and baritone solos. Harrington was back playing the violin and he seemed a little underpowered. I would have liked more meat in the sound.
The piece was mostly in English, with the original Spanish at the beginning and end, with some bits in the middle. Grantham gave it a satisfying sense of drama and a lot of just plain beautiful music. Also his writing for the chorus, the violin, and the soloists was idiomatic and satisfying. Cantori did their best singing in this piece, it’s just the kind of thing they do well.
The piece is an expression of a man’s love for a woman. Baritone Thomas West sang with body and warmth and an impressive range of colors. As you would expect, he stood in front of the chorus, to the side. Soprano Nicolette Mavroleon made her entrance in a high glam way - - she walked on slowly from the side, representing the man’s image of his beloved. She was greatly aided by her navy blue chiffon gown, demure ladylike hairdo (gathered at the back of the neck), and fabulous rhinestone (or diamond?) earrings. I know I’m a big drama queen, but this was another of the highlights of the concert. Plus she sang like a dream!
The chorus sounded pretty good in the Purcell, but on the whole it suffered from a lack of inspiration and drive. Organist Timothy Pyper played the hell out of it, and the soloists were back. One duet was for tenor and mezzo, which didn’t sound quite right for baritone and soprano. West did an admirable job singing at the top of his range, but had a bit more heft than is called for. Mavroleon was less successful,, she just couldn’t pump out enough sound down there. They were both more successful in their solo movements: West went after his dotted rhythms with an adorable snappiness. and Mavroleon had a sweet, 1950s Elisabeth Schwarzkopf vibe. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
“Emmanuel” (Michel Colombia, arranged by Gregory Harrington)
“La blanche neige” and “Par une nuit nouvelle” (Francis Poulenc)
*La canción desesperada* (Donald Grantham)
“Marie” and “Tous les droits” (Francis Poulenc)
“À peine défigurée” and “Belle et Ressemblante” (Francis Poulenc)
*Ode for St. Cecllia’s Day* (Henry Purcell)
“Luire” (Francis Poulenc)