The goal of the Serenade! festival, presented by music promoter Classical Movements, is to offer a cross section of choral music from around the world. In its third year of free concerts throughout the Washington area, the annual summer event ended Monday night at Damascus United Methodist Church in Maryland with a performance by two international choirs.
First on the evening’s world tour: the Russian Singers, an all-male choir from Yekaterinburg. The men sang with a generally good balance and true intonation, although with only 10 voices, one missed that massive sound associated with Russian choirs. The highlights of the program were inventive arrangements of Russian folk songs such as “Snowballs” and a medley of feasting tunes — both punctuated with the rhythmic wolf whistle apparently required in exuberant Russian songs — and a hilarious, virtuosic rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.”
On the second half, six talented singers from Australian Voices made a mark with their clean, high soprano sound and didgeridoo-like overtone singing. Particularly fine were the strange folk legend “Wirindji,” treated with experimental vocal effects by the group’s founder, composer Stephen Leek, and the kooky “Initialise,” a quasi-minimalist setting of a long list of acronyms by director Gordon Hamilton.
But much of the music from both groups, rather than revealing a range of international styles, reinforced the impression of the Americanized homogeneity of contemporary choral music. This fizzy, a cappella style, familiar from the Manhattan Transfer, the Bobs and countless collegiate groups, was most incongruous in an odd jazz-influenced arrangement of the Russian army’s “Partisan’s Song.” While certainly not unpleasant, this kind of music is like a meringue, known more for its insubstantial lightness than its taste.
Downey is a freelance writer.