Frank and I heard Chanticleer in their concert *Upon This Rock* on 4/26/18. I don't think Frank had heard them live before - - I'd heard them many times, most recently in December. I've listed the complete program below. They sang beautifully, with their usual pure tone, crisp counterpoint, and spot-on intonation.
I don't know if it was them, or me, or the program, but this concert didn't wow me. I'm usually profoundly wowed by them, but it didn't happen this time. Frank thought the standing arrangement was part of the problem - - there are twelve men in the group, and they often stood with four in the back and four on each side, facing each other, like three parts of a square with one line left out. The sound might have been warmer if more of them were facing the audience, rather than facing each other. And Frank thought it was a little strange that the altos and sopranos switched parts so much. I'm taking it another level and asking why there are no WOMEN in the group.
Maybe it was where I was sitting, but in that first piece there was a tenor sticking out of the texture almost the whole time, thankfully only in the first piece. He made me think of a trip to Fratelli (a pizza joint here on the Upper East Side) with a group of friends a few years ago. We decided to get a white pizza, and thought why not get fancy and get the four cheese white pizza. Turns out one of those four cheeses was gorgonzola, and while it wasn't a deal-breaker, do you really want bleu cheese on a pizza? That tenor was like the bleu cheese in the pizza.
I know this is shallow, but one of the joys of Chanticleer is watching all those cute young men. They now have a skinny blond tenor with an adorable pinched sort of face. He looks like Eddie Redmayne's slightly goofy-looking younger brother. He hardly opened his mouth when he sang. I'm not sure if that's a function of his vocal production, or just his face.
"How lovely are thy dwellings" by Percy Carter Buck was one of the highlights of the program. It was sort of chanted, and had some surprising harmonies. It would be perfect for a good church choir (Kathy the Mezzo, are you reading this?).
The Harbison was a world premiere, they commissioned him to write the piece for them. Was it a glorious mess, or just a mess? There were some cool effects and some showy passages for solo voices (including an extravagant cadenza for my friend Gerrod Pagenkopf), but it was too long and too complicated. I was looking forward to it being over, which is never a good feeling.
The Poulenc was the highlight by far. Maybe it's just because I love Poulenc so much, but they sounded glorious. It's also worth noting that the piece is for tenors and basses, the only piece on the program that wasn't also for altos and sopranos. I'm not saying that the men don't sound good up there, but it was a nice change in texture. Here's a recording of them doing the piece:
I caught myself tapping my foot during "Hark, I hear the harps eternal." And soprano Cortez Mitchell gets the Most Valuable Player award for his solo in "Steal away." There was a hint of Barbara Hendricks in his sound. I loved his gospel humming, and especially loved the big, husky H he put in "Steal way HHHHHome." That was delicious.
Frank gave the MVP award to their one and only bass. "Without him, they'd be a boy band."
* * *
"Jubilate Deo a 6," Orlando di Lasso
"Sanctus" from *Missa Alleluia,* Jean Mouton
"Tu es Petrus," Tomás Luis de Victoria
"How lovely are thy dwellings," Percy Carter Buck
"Vidi acquam," Cristóbal de Morales
"When David heard," Thomas Weelkes
"Laboravi in gemitu meo," Thomas Morley
"Sicut servus," Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
"My shepherd will supply my need," traditional American folk hymn arranged by Virgil Thomson
"Psalm 116," John Harbison
*Quatre petites prières de saint François d’Assise*
"Hark, I hear the harps eternal," Appalachian hymn, arranged by Robert Shaw and Alice Parker
"Steal away," African-American spiritual arranged by Joseph Jennings
"I will arise and go to Jesus," American folk hymn arranged by Shaw/Parker
"Saints bound for heaven," American folk hymn arranged by Shaw/Parker