Scott Tucker was appointed artistic director of the Choral Arts Society of Washington in 2012. As the ensemble nears its 50th anniversary next year, Tucker has instituted the Choral Arts Chamber Singers, a small chorus within the chorus that gave its first concert on Friday night at Falls Church Episcopal. The new series allows the musicians to explore a different repertoire beyond the big choral chestnuts with orchestra that are their normal bread and butter.
The program, called “Under the Midnight Sun,” focused on Finnish composers, and the high point of the evening was a set of works by Einojuhani Rautavaara, perhaps the most important living Finnish composer. “Lähto” and the “Suite de Lorca” were fueled by gripping energy, especially the unearthly howls of the latter work’s second movement and the menacing dance of death in its last movement, “Malagueña.” The four movements of “Ludus verbalis” revealed Rautavaara’s more experimental side, a quirky patter of German words in rhythmic whispering, hissing and sliding pitch.
Singing in mixed formation, arranged in a large double arc, helped the ensemble’s blend considerably, although individual voices were still too obtrusive at times, while solo contributions were not the strongest. Intonation did not always lock into place, and some of the higher writing tested the security of the soprano voices. Most of the music was unaccompanied, although associate conductor Brandon Straub offered a few of Sibelius’s minor piano pieces to pleasing effect. Other than a couple of other interesting pieces by Reijo Kekkonen and Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, most of the program consisted of arrangements of folk songs. When one of them broke into an interlude of Finnish rap, it passed the border into cutesiness.
Downey is a freelance writer.