At times, Friday night’s opening concert of the 2013 Serenade! Washington D.C. Choral Festival felt like an endless reality-TV choir contest. One drastically different chorus after another paraded onstage at the Church of the Epiphany, stretching the evening to more than two and a half hours, over a span of seven separate performances, including an introduction and song by the formerly homeless Peate Pegues and a cash collection one hour later for his homeless choir, plus a five-minute intermission.
One group worthy of voting “off the island” was The Watch. The four gents from Toronto, with microphones and sound system, sang (not always in tune) Stevie Wonder and Carole King in a slicked-up barbershop-quartet-goes-to-Vegas style that sounded out of place even beside two children’s choruses, a Latvian septet and a powerful Polish chamber choir.
The Children’s Chorus of Washington presented a decent blend, especially in the highest voices, but performances from Bernstein’s “Mass” and Ella Fitzgerald’s “A Tisket, A Tasket” were oddly buttoned up. Still, the Chinese “Da Hai” proved the group could slide and swell notes effectively.
A clear audience favorite was Latvian Voices, seven women (with faux braids and stylized peasant dresses) whose tangy, exotic Baltic harmonies and flawless ensemble work shone in folk songs such as “Rutoj Saule” (Sun Dancing) but less so in Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose.”
One couldn’t help but cheer for Florida’s Singing Sons Boychoir. The 40-some lads, with director Craig Denison, marked the Benjamin Britten centennial year with a satisfying performance of “Rejoice in the Lamb.” Britten’s quirky, exuberant cantata includes cats and mice, spasms of religious ecstasy and a climactic fugal section where the boys tossed verses back and forth energetically.
Perhaps choral fatigue had set in by the time Poland’s Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir capped the night. The group’s power and precision were impressive, but sheer volume occasionally overwhelmed the dance-inflected folk-song suites. With scant program listings, listeners wondered what was being sung.
The festival concludes Monday in Maryland with a shorter, better-balanced program at Damascus United Methodist Church in Damascus.
Huizenga is a freelance writer.