Myrna and I heard the Chanticleer Christmas concert on 11/30/18. I don’t believe I’d ever heard a Christmas concert in November before, but I guess there’s a first for nearly everything.
I’ve heard them many times, especially lately - - this was the third time I’ve heard them in the last year. They were wonderful, as they always are, and they have a very special way with their audience. The program was their typical mix of early music and 20th century music, with one brand new piece added for color.
They sang the early music pieces beautifully, bringing out the drama without sacrificing clarity. I’m a big fan of Poulenc but don’t think I’d heard “Quem vidistiis, pastures dicite” before. It had a lot of the things that you hear in many Poulenc pieces, but what he does is so delicious and distinctive, it’s a joy to hear. They followed that piece with a 16th century setting of the same text by Orlando di Lasso. I found it interesting that they started with the modern piece, the progression would typically go in the opposite direction.
My friend Gerrod Pagenkopf had a solo in “D’où viens-tu, bergère?” and he sounded more beautiful than ever. Lovely, creamy voice. Another alto sang a solo later in the piece and it was interesting to hear how different their voices are. A third alto had a solo in the premiere, “Behold, a Simple, Tender Babe” by Peter Bloesch. His voice was sweet, perfect for the wholesome charm of the piece. It was remarkable that the overall blend of the group (which has only twelve members) was so good, hearing how different the individual voices are.
The Biebl “Ave Maria” is a Chanticleer specialty. They sang it at their Christmas concert last year, and Richard and I were sitting next to a darling gentleman who had come all the way from North Carolina to hear it! Let me tell you, it’s always worth the trip, that piece is a miracle, a little slice of heaven.
They sang an arrangement of “O Tannenbaum” by Jim Clements. It seemed like he worked his way through every key and every possible chord progression in this little two-and-a-half minute piece, it was a little dizzying. The Fenno Heath arrangement of “What Child Is This?” had a similar problem. I might call it “What Key Is This?”
The high point of the concert was “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” by Elizabeth Poston, Chanticleer did their most delicate, lovely singing of the evening. It sounded like white tissue paper, or white organza.
The program ended with a “Christmas Spiritual Medley” by Joseph Jennings. The one moment I loved was a solo trio in “Sweet Little Baby Jesus Boy,” it had tight harmonies and those guys really leaned into them, it was dazzling and felt authentic.
Much of the rest of the medley made me uneasy. It was a crowd pleaser, and designed to be one, but it bothered me to hear it performed an overwhelmingly white ensemble. It helps that the arrangements were done for the group by an African-American composer (Joseph H. Jennings, their former artistic director), and it helps that there’s one African-American guy in the group (and two Asian guys), but maybe the greater problem is seeing a bunch of guys in white tie and tails singing this music. They have every right to go tell it on the mountain, I’m just not sure I want to hear it. I’d rather be over the hill (and everywhere).