If your vision of a boy choir sound is ethereal weightlessness, it’s not the Vienna Boys Choir you’re thinking of. Although the English have cultivated that light floating singing, the Viennese have gone in for hearty brightness — a straight vibrato-less production that penetrates rather than soars. This is the sound that a Vienna Boys Choir touring group of 23 singers brought to their performance at Georgetown’s St. John’s Episcopal Church on Sunday in one of their trademark programs — mostly sacred music in the first half and mostly folk songs in the second.
If truth be told, the folk songs carried the day. While short pieces by Couperin, Monteverdi, Haydn and the like were earnest, they also were remarkably inflexible. Conductor Oliver Stech’s piano accompaniments, which were loud enough so that the boys often sounded like they were struggling to sing over them, didn’t help. An exception was the Mendelssohn “Laudate Pueri Dominum,” in which Stech held back and the voluptuous richness of the alto section’s lead-in energized the piece.
The music of the second half moved from the Danube through Pakistan and Taiwan, past Namibia and a Native American tribe and back to the choir’s home territory, the Danube. Stech accompanied with much more restraint and, singing in many different languages and styles, the boys sounded more relaxed. They handled the cool irregular rhythms of a Bulgarian folk song with pizzazz, shaped lovely phrases in an Austrian love song and brought the house down with a Pakistani Sufi hymn that was accompanied by two of the boys who rocked on a pair of Indian drums.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.