Chanticleer, Playing Tag With the Text

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Chanticleer, the renowned men's chorus, performed six new American works Monday night in the Library of Congress's Coolidge Auditorium. Though the longest work isn't likely to end up in the choral canon, Music Director Joseph Jennings and the chorus made fine advocates for them all, easily handling some hair-raising technical challenges and going to the essence of each piece.

Ezequiel Vinao contributed the program's centerpiece, "The Wanderer," a setting of an Old English poem in his own intriguing translation. Vinao effectively used six-part counterpoint and endless shades of dissonance to evoke the alienated mood of the poem as well as the text's medieval origins. Unfortunately, the contrapuntal thickets tended to obscure the text, and it was tough to follow (much less enjoy) the ambiguous harmonic paths of the work as it ran for over a half-hour.

By contrast, Robert Kyr's setting of medieval musical encomiums, "In Praise of Music," was short and sweet, a fine curtain-raiser, while Steven Stucky's "Drop, Drop, Slow Tears" provided engaging postmodern musical commentary on the original Orlando Gibbons hymn. Paul Schoenfield set selections from Psalm 82 to shimmering, stirring harmonies.

In "Of Gold," Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez concentrated on striking word-paintings; obsessive repetitions of "all around, my blessing and my curse" left the chorus red-faced from effort. Arthur Jarvinen, though, stole the show with his sense of humor. His "25 Lines for 25 Quires (Set 1)" featured a number of good gags, including Beach Boys-style harmonies employed sarcastically for this Erik Satie quote: "An artist may be imitated. A critic is inimitable, and priceless."

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

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