Voices of Ascension Fauré *Requiem,* Apr 20, 2023
Susie and I heard Voices of Ascension on Apr 20, 2023. They're a professional chorus based at the Church of the Ascension - - I've been a huge fan of theirs since back to when I first moved to New York, I've probably heard them over thirty times. The program was anchored by Vaughan Williams's *Serenade To Music* and Fauré's *Reqiuem.*
The Vaughan Williams is such a gorgeous piece. It was originally written for 16 singers and a full orchestra but they did it with a chorus of 40-ish with the soloists singing from the ensemble. Artistic director and conductor Dennis Keene did an arrangement for violin, harp, and organ. The pared down instrumentation felt like it gave a sharper profile to the harmonies - - you heard them for themselves, you didn't have the added distraction of VW's masterful orchestration.
The chorus came in and took my breath away. Their sound was lush and rich but still transparent. I often describe them as having "the sound of holiness" and I need to come up with new ways to describe them. Hearing them do this piece, I was struck by how they always sing with exquisite taste.
Next up, the Holst *Festival Te Deum.* I was a grinning idiot throughout this piece, it was so overt, bordering on hokey or silly. It was a big long block of text and Holst plowed right through it with almost no repetitions. This is more rare than you might think.
The Bainton "And I Saw a New Heaven" is a favorite piece of Susie's. I wasn't so struck with it until the final section, when God wiped the tears away from their eyes. It was very special indeed and remained inspired through the end.
They ended the first half with the Parry "Blest Pair of Sirens." The word I wrote down was GARISH. There were a few whiffs of Wagner, which makes perfect sense, Parry wrote it in 1887, which was the peak of Wagner mania. Parry seemed to know where he was going in this piece but it was often a surprise to me. Another piece that had me smiling, I may have even chuckled. Here's a V of A performance from 2016:
I was most excited to hear V of A sing the Fauré *Requiem,* it's a beloved piece and I'd never heard them do it. From the first few minutes I had the feeling that yes, I've heard many performances and recordings of this piece but I will never hear a better performance. That's how it STARTED, and it continued in that "doesn't get better than this" vein through the end.
The "Christe eleison" sounded eerily like Poulenc, who didn't hit the scene until about fifty years later. Another moment later on sounded like Poulenc through the filter of Bernard Herrmann, which was a surprise. I've always thought Herrmann occasionally sounded quite a lot like Poulenc - - listen to the descending chords after the credits to *Psycho,* after the opening credits. The way the strings play slightly changing chords, always heading down, in a manner devoid of affect, it's total Poulenc.
I didn't realize Poulenc and Herrmann BOTH got that from Fauré,
Tyler Duncan sang the baritone solo. He has a gorgeous voice but I would ask for more smoothness. I'm hearing him in *Champion* at the Met next week, we'll see what I think of him in that.
The "Sanctus" was bewitching! The combination of melody, harmony, and orchestral tastiness, it was sublime. The Hosannas in this movement were thrilling.
Sarah Chalfy sang the soprano solo, the touching "Pie Jesu." She sang it like Desdemona's "Ave Maria" in Verdi's *Otello,* which I guess is a valid choice but I didn't care for it. I think the "Pie Jesu" should be more inward, more personal, like someone sharing a secret.
The "Agnus Dei" was filled with light. The baritone was more in his element in the drama of the "Libera me."
I didn't write any notes about the final movement, the "In Paradisum." I didn't need to, I will never forget it. It's really and truly one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written, up there with the Schubert's "Nacht und Träume," Rachmaninoff "Vocalese," the first movement of the Villa-Lobos *Bachianas Brasilieras,* and the cello/piano movement of Messaien's *Quartet for the End of Time.* Those are the pieces that come to mind, I might have a different list tomorrow. The V of A sopranos are always startling in their purity - - warm and colorful but always crystal clear.
Here's a V of A performance of the "Libera Me" and "In Paradisum" from 2015. "In Paradisum" starts at 4:37. Prepare to weep!