From Ensemble Corund, Sonic Shakespeare

Monday, March 6, 2006

Based in Lucerne, Switzerland, the Ensemble Corund brought an intriguing program of a cappella music to the Library of Congress on Friday. In settings of texts drawn mainly from Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, four of the composers represented were British, three Swiss, one American and one Finnish, their music spanning the past century and a half.

Conducted by Stephen Smith, the group (five women and seven men) sang with the lean and focused sound that in an expansive Gothic cathedral creates a multi-dimensional resonance like no other. Attempting this aural quality in the library's Coolidge Auditorium, however, tends to result in a sonic austerity that exposes the tiniest flaws in balance and intonation. And the Corund's unaccompanied voices tackled music drenched in slippery harmonies and close dissonances.

The singers overcame this obstacle course most successfully in the second half of the program. They lent Dominick Argento's "Sonnet No. XLIV (In Memoriam 9/11)" a full measure of gentle reflection, while Frank Martin's five "Songs of Ariel" (from "The Tempest") had an assured, adventuresome vibrancy. The Corund sang three composers' versions of "Full Fathom Five" (also from "The Tempest"), each time capturing the delightful onomatopoeic sonority of "Ding-Dong Bell."

-- Cecelia Porter

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