There was a remarkable event at the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall last night. "Choruses of the World," the Fifth International Choral Festival, assembled university choruses from 10 countries under the joint sponsorship of the Kennedy Center and the city of Philadelphia. It was an evening of magnificent sounds. It also managed to offer in one night's choral repertory more imagination, taste and daring than is usually experienced with all our local choruses in an entire season.
The academic hymn "Gaudeamus igitur" provided a surprise opening number, sung by all the choruses from the balcony with the lush sonority that would mark the evening. Then choruses from France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Japan, Nigeria, the Philippines, Poland, Venezuela and the United States sang in the long first part of the program. The combined festival chorus closed the concert in an extravaganza of well-deserved dynamic indulgence.
Since excellence in performance was the norm, the groups that chose to sing great music were shown to the best advantage. Juergen Juergens' Monteverdi-Chor Hamburg, returning to the Kennedy Center after too long an absence for too short a visit, sang Scarlatti's virtuoso showpiece "Sdegno la fiamma estinse" and rose to musical heights not much lower than the angels. It is a perfect choir: Its intonation is faultless, its diction clear but never mannered; the musical divisions are clean and precise, each singer's sound perfectly focused and blended as a single lovely voice.
Equally impressive were the University of Philippines Madrigal Singers under the direction of Andrea O. Veneracio'n. They gave the Washington premiere of "Sounds of the Earth" by the 30-year-old composer Rube'n Federizo'n. An impressive score with echoes of the best of Xenakis, it made cruel musical demands on the choir which were met with bravery and beauty. Short vocal emissions constructed a complicated rhythmic pattern with Glass-like clarity, only to be suddenly interrupted by a low hum and a titillating tension that remained for the rest of the piece.
Not to be outdone, Poland's Szczecin Technical University Academic Choir sang Penderecki's Stabat Mater, one of the choral glories of our century. The score's fierce rhythms and tonal clusters sounded tame here, but this was a profoundly moving interpretation nevertheless. The Ensemble Universitaire de Strasbourg had precise attacks and an attractive edge to its soprano sections. The University of Warwick Chamber Choir sported a lush and wondrous sound.Temple University's Concert Choir had no such vices, and even the music of the dreadful Randall Thompson could not hide the loveliness of this chorus.