In performance: Cantate Chamber Singers
Cantate Chamber Singers' Tours de Force
by Joan Reinthaler
The Cantate Chamber Singers have a lot of faithful fans, and a whole Kennedy Center Terrace Theater-full of them showed up for their “Choral Tours de Force” concert on Saturday, part of this year’s ongoing celebration of 25 seasons of fine music-making. The program was largely 20th-century (two of Debussy’s “Trois Chansons" predated that landmark by 2 years) and largely a cappella (the Stravinsky Mass was accompanied by a fine small wind group and dancers from Bowen McCauley Dance), and brought together some of the loveliest and some of the liveliest music in that genre’s repertoire.
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Schoenberg’s “Friede auf Erden" (Peace on Earth), its explicit humanity by turns ecstatic, serene and emphatic but always on display, contrasted startlingly with Stravinsky’s ritualistic and determinedly unemotional Mass. Conductor/Music Director Gisèle Becker and her 36 singers projected both of these extremes well, emphasizing beautifully balanced and glowing sonorities in the Schoenberg and an astringent sense of timelessness in the Stravinsky. Lucy Bowen McCauley’s choreography, commissioned for the occasion, highlighted the form and structure implicit in Stravinsky’s music and was danced fluidly and with appropriately muted energy.
The performances of the wonderful sets of “Trois Chansons” by Debussy, “Reincarnations” by Barber and “Five Flower Songs” by Britten were uneven. The opening chord of Debussy’s “Dieu, qu’il la fait” emerged in a halo of light and the whole piece was lovingly and gracefully shaped, but balances between soloist and chorus in “Quand j’ai ouy le tambourin” were way off and, although “Yver,” the last in this set, tripped along engagingly, a lot of dynamic contrast (particularly on the pianissimo end) and accents were lost along the way. The Barber pieces went well but also would have profited from better diction (consonants!) and more daringly quiet passages to set up the power of the crescendos. Britten’s Flower Songs ended the evening delightfully.
-- Joan Reinthaler
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