Amor Artis concert, 3/3/19
I heard Amor Artis in *Songs of Farewell* on 3/3/19. Amor Artis is a 42-voice mixed chorus I hadn't heard before, but (of course) I know quite a few of their members. A friend in the group had encouraged me to come, and I'm so glad I did. It was an exceptionally beautiful concert.
As is often the case in good classical music concerts, it was a masterpiece of programming. Conductor Ryan James Brandau built the program around Heinrich Schütz's *Musikalische Exequien* and three of Charles Hubert Hastings Parry's *Songs of Farewell.* He threw in some other pieces to fill it out - - it was nearly two hours of music without an intermission, it all flowed together seamlessly, it was thrilling, involving, and deeply moving.
The first piece was Robert Pearsall's "Lay a Garland" and perfectly displayed the chorus's lush carpet of sound - - warm, vibrant, crystal clear, full of color and expression. Often with a volunteer chorus you have one section that's a clunker, but not in this group. They were uniformly strong.
The conductor, Ryan James Brandau, welcomed the audience after that first piece and explained the concept of the concert, the pairing of Schütz and Parry. And he dedicated the concert to conductor Joe Flummerfelt, who had died just a few days before. He had taught at Westminster Choir College and had taught Brandau's two high school choir conductors.
The first movement of the Schütz was the longest and most ambitious. The piece alternates between movements for soloists and the full chorus, with a small ensemble (cello, bass, theorbo, and organ) accompanying them. They all had a delightful sense of swing and forward motion. The soloists were members of the choir, and they were all good, though baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert was the best of them. I have to say his face, voice, and name were a little familiar - - it turns out I had been to a recital he did at Juilliard in September 2017. He's a wonderful singer.
The next piece was "My Soul, There is a Country" by Parry. It was startling how it seemed to grow out of the Schütz: it was in the same key and they took just a few seconds' pause between the two pieces. It started as something sweet and charming and grew into something much more than that. Here's a lovely performance by The Convivium Singers:
Parry's "There Is An Old Belief" was another ravishing piece. Maybe some of the odd harmonic shifts weren't quite convincing in the Amor Artis performance, but they sounded delicious near the end, in the way the lines pealed out, and in the fabulous ending.
Let me talk you through "Prepare For Death and Follow Me" by Caleb Burhans, such a fascinating piece. It started with the cello and bass playing a repeating pattern. One section of women came in singing the text in a plaintive way. Then another section of women singing that tune, and the first section singing a counterpoint to it. Then a third section of women singing the tune, the two other parts doing something else. By the time the basses came in on the tune, the underlying harmonies had changed in an exciting, unsettling way, and in the next go 'round the theorbo and organ had crept in and no one was singing the tune, they were all singing something new over the now familiar harmonic grounding. It had a hushed ending. This is a piece that should be done a LOT, it was something very special.
The next piece was a solo Purcell song by one of the sopranos - - what a great idea, it gave a nice bit of variety in the program and gave the choir a chance to SIT the FREAK DOWN. Then a piece by Lassus that didn't make much of an impact on me, and then the final movement of the Schütz. The soloists and theorbo moved to the back of the church which gave it an interesting acoustical texture and might I even say a bit of drama? And when the soloists in the back weren't always precisely in synch with the choir in the front, that added a bit more drama!
They ended with Holst's "Nunc Dimitis," and they still sounded fresh, secure, and enthusiastic. They ended with a spiritual I hadn't heard before, "Unclouded Day." I'm all for encores, and have sung (more than) my share of spirituals as encores, but this one felt hokey after such an ambitious and High European program. It didn't mar my overall feeling about the concert, though.
"Lay a Garland" (Robert Pearsall)
*Musikalische Exequien,* 1st mvt (Heinrich Schütz)
"My Soul, There is a Country" (Charles Hubert Hastings Parry)
Never Weather-Beaten Sail (Parry)
*Musikalische Exequien,* 2nd mvt (Schütz)
There Is an Old Belief" (Parry)
"Prepare For Death and Follow Me" (Caleb Burhans)
"An Evening Hymn" (Henry Purcell)
"Justorum Animae" (Orlandus Lassus)
*Musikalische Exequien,* 3rd mvt (Schütz)
"Nunc Dimitis" (Gustav Holst)