Correction to This Article
The headline on the Style review of a concert at the Library of Congress was incorrect. The performance was not by the Choral Arts Society but by a freelance professional choir that included past and present members of the society.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Choral Arts Society

The MacDowell Colony, an artists' retreat in southern New Hampshire, celebrates its centennial this year. The Library of Congress has pitched in to the celebration with an exhibition earlier this year and, on Friday evening, a concert of music by colony alumni, led by Norman Scribner and members of the Choral Arts Society. With singing of warmth and finesse, the performers evoked the colony's bucolic atmosphere.

Common among all the songs and choral music -- from short hymns of the colony's founder, Edward MacDowell, to arrangements of American folk tunes by Aaron Copland -- was a direct, rhetorical style and a consonant melodic sound. This was music about peaceful journeys, spiritual faith and love of life, themes that predictably arise in pastoral settings. Scribner is a hulk of a man, and it is always a treat to see the way his big gestures bring out music of such tailored delicacy and rhythmic verve.

The seven songs from Ned Rorem's cycle "From an Unknown Past" emerged with grace, while Virgil Thomson's "There Is a Garden in Her Face" wafted up like perfume. Pianist Thomas Pandolfi, percussionist Albert Merz and singers like countertenor Roger Isaacs contributed sensitively at every turn. Amid all the resplendent sounds from the chorus -- clear diction, well-supported solos and careful phrasing -- it was its committed performance of Leonard Bernstein's mystical and moving "Missa Brevis" that most lingered in mind after the last measures.

-- Daniel Ginsberg


It's been only a decade since the core members of Tinariwen, who performed Thursday night at Lisner Auditorium, were in revolt against the government of Mali. Nowadays, the group expresses the travails of the nomadic Tuareg (or Tamashek) people with music that meshes traditional melodies with twangy electric guitars. The robed and turbaned musicians' material doesn't offer a lot of variety, but its loping rhythms and scratchy, scrambling timbres are exhilarating.

Tinariwen is a loosely aligned outfit, and only five of the 15 musicians featured on its latest album, "Aman Iman: Water Is Life," appeared at Lisner. In promotional photographs, bushy-haired Ibrahim Ag Alhabib usually stands at the center, but on this tour Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni led the band (as he did in 2004). By singing solo or playing acoustic guitar Spanish-style, Alhousseyni sometimes varied the group's sound. More often, however, he joined the communal clatter of such tunes as "Tamatant Tilay," a onetime war anthem that works just as well as an ecstatic dance song.

If the members of Tinariwen were once outcasts, their opening act was a consummate insider: Vieux Farka Tour¿ is descended from generations of Malian nobility and is the son of the revered singer-guitarist Ali Farka Tour¿, who died last year. Yet the two acts proved both musically and personally compatible; Tinariwen bassist Eyadou Ag Leche joined the opener for one song, and later Tour¿ added his guitar to the headliners' arsenal.

Tour¿ didn't sing much, ceding some of the occasional vocals to his quintet's percussionist. The 50-minute set was haphazardly paced and didn't encompass the stylistic range of his recent self-titled album, which features two duets with his father. Yet none of that mattered whenever Tour¿ unloosed his guitar, playing fluid, eloquent solos.

-- Mark Jenkins

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