Richard and I heard Chanticleer in concert on 12/6/19, *A Chanticleer Christmas.* They opened the concert processing down the center aisle of the church, singing a plainchant. Just when you think that nothing could be more ravishingly beautiful, they sang the Josquin. That led straight into the Handl, it was a stunning first set.
I’ve listed the program below. It was broken into sets, but when the audience applauds after every number, it sorta spoils it, am I right? I wonder if there’s a gracious way to get the audience to stop doing that. Probably not.
The Victoria showed off their exquisite blend and effortless sense of foreground/background, what a former conductor (Tim Stalter) described as “knowing when you’re Gladys Knight, and when you’re a Pip.” With the Hassler, I started to wonder if they were going to sing every piece on the program sounding sweet and bashful. That turned out to be a pretty accurate prediction.
I knew “I Wonder As I Wander” by John Jacob Niles but hadn’t heard the John Rutter arrangement. It was lovely but maybe a little too English? It was Appalachia by way of Westminster Abbey. The tenor who sang the solo, Andrew Van Allsburg, had a lovely young voice.
The López Capillas was a fascinating piece, full of abrupt changes in tempo and character, always well handled by the ensemble. “La Virgen lava pañales” was the highlight of the concert because it sounded completely unlike anything else. Instead of being sweet and bashful, it was dark and smoky. Counter tenor Adam Ward did a gorgeous job with his solo. Here's a recording by the Robert Shaw Chorale with the divine Florence Kopleff singing the solo:
The Marchincourt was the one piece I didn’t like as a piece of music. There was too much noodling around, it sounded messy, it drove me a little nutty, I wanted it to be over. I was relieved when they started singing “Alleluia,” I knew it was ending, but then I realized that the “Alleluias” could go on for a while...
They changed their formation for the Praetorious, they put six on one side and six on the other. I said to Richard, “It’s the Sharks and the Jets!”
The Kverno was another highlight, also because it had a different color. In this case it was a little aggressive. Zachary Burgess, who sang the solo in the Howells, has such an unusual voice, I really sat up and took notice.
I think Chanticleer is required by law to do the Franz Biebl “Ave Maria” in a Christmas concert. And I am required by law to weep. I started weeping even before they started singing! It’s like sometimes I catch myself saying “Mm!” as the fork is headed towards my mouth for the first bite of food. Anyway, back to the Biebl. Is it possible this performance was even more beautiful than before? The solo trio is always fantastic, but this time I felt like the chorus had a more wondrous, hushed quality. Here's a recent performance:
“Touro-louro-louro!” had a delightful, impetuous vibe. The “Rocking Carol” was tender and sincere. I was curious to hear which of the three tunes they’d use for “Away In a Manger” and was thrilled that they did the version that I sang growing up.
Matthew Mazzolla sounded fantastic in his solo in “Rise Up, Shepherd.” Soprano Cortez Mitchell was stunning in his solo in “Mary Had a Baby.” I’ve heard him a few times with the group, and he always makes me think of Barbara Hendricks (never a bad thing). And the last spiritual, “Come an’ See,” I’ve heard them do it before and it always bothers me. It’s a rousing final number, and the audience goes wild, which is the point, but I find it problematic. It has less to do with the fact that the group is 85% white - - the problem is they’re wearing white tie and tails. There’s a strong element of what I call Whitey Goes Ethnic.
“Quem terra, pontus aethera” (plainchant)
“Missus est Gabriel angelus” (Josquin de Prez)
“Canite tuba in Sion” (Jacob Handl)
“Ne timeas Maria” (Tomás Luis de Victoria)
“Dixit Maria ad Angelum” (Hans Leo Hassler)
“Gaudens gaudebo” (Peter Philips)
“Ecce virgo concipiet” (William Byrd)
“I Wonder as I Wander” (John Jacob Niles, arr by John Rutter)
“Cui luna, sol et omnia” (Francisco López Capillas)
“La Virgen lava pañales” (traditional Spanish arr by Robert Shaw and Alice Parker)
“Quem pastores laudavere” (Michael Praetorius arr by Harry Christophers)
“Pastores dimite, quidnam vidistis” (Cristóbal de Morales)
“Reges terrae” (Pierre de Manchicourt)
“In dulci jubilo à 8” (Praetorius)
“Corpus Christi Carol” (Trond Kverno)
“A Spotless Rose” (Herbert Howells)
“Ave Maria” (Franz Biebl)
“I Sing the Birth” (Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry)
“Susanni” (traditional German arr by Shaw/Parker)
“I Saw Three Ships” (traditional English arr by David Willcocks)
“Touro-louro-louro!” (Niclas Saboly arr by Shaw/:Parker)
“Rocking Carol” (traditional Czech arr by Martin Shaw)
“Away in a Manger” (traditional American arr by Shaw/Parker)
A Christmas Medley: “Rise Up Shepherd an’ Follow,” “Mary Had a Baby,” Come an’ See” (Rosephanye Powerll)
Encore: “Riu riu chiu”