Bella Voce offers tasty and eclectic holiday buffet

Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 12:30 pm

By Gerald Fisher

‘Tis the season for holiday potpourris and Bella Voce, the group formerly known as His Majestie’s Clerkes, is laying out a buffet of familiar shorter pieces along with a good helping of more meaty items.  Under the direction of Andrew Lewis Bella Voce is an a cappella group that takes quite a few musical chances and usually brings them off successfully. For their holiday concert in remote Barrington, the 16-voice ensemble presents even the well-known items in refreshingly novel versions and settings.

This season’s repertoire includes Medieval carols taken from the original manuscripts; gorgeous five-part Renaissance polyphony from Lassus; some English standards including settings by Holst (a rapt version of his Jesu, Thou the Virgin Born) and Vaughan Williams; a generous selection of the Marienlieder by Brahms and a rhythmically complex early piece by Britten, Rosa Mystica, setting the ecstatic words of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Even the encore was off the beaten path: the shimmering Lux Aurumque by Eric Whitacre, one of this decade’s more interesting choral composers.

The result of all the eclecticism was to vary the presentation nicely with none of the sameness of some vocal ensembles who tend to make all styles and periods sound alike. The evening was well-paced and the choir alert and energetic, albeit with their share of missed entrances, aberrant attacks and faulty intonation.

Bella Voce has made a specialty of early Spanish music, and some of their most successful moments were from this rich repertoire – a bracing performance of the familiar Riu, Riu, Chiu, and tasty selections by Victoria and Guerrero, as well as the New World-based Gaspar Fernandes.

The choir split up for the antiphonal O Magnum Mysterium a 8 by Gabrielli, which was well done though it brought to the fore the limitations of the Barrington Presbyterian Church for this kind of concert. The church is lovely to look at, but carpeted and quite dry acoustically. More resonant venues are in the offing for future performances, which are scheduled for December 6 at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Evanston; December 12 at St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle and December 13 at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel in Hyde Park.

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