Ferris Chorale and friends convey the luminous solace of Faure’s Requiem

Sun Mar 14, 2010 at 12:38 pm

By Wynne Delacoma

Gabriel Faure

The William Ferris Chorale is taking its show on the road this spring.

With its long-time home base, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in East Lakeview, undergoing renovation, the chorale is taking advantage of some of the city’s other atmospheric liturgical spaces. On Saturday, it performed the Faure Requiem and other works in the airy, Art Deco splendor of the Madonna della Strada Chapel on Loyola University’s lakefront campus. It repeats the program Sunday in St. Cletus Church in La Grange.

Paul French

Saturday’s concert could have been billed William Ferris Chorale and Friends. For the Requiem and a bracing trio of Handel’s selections, the chorale was joined by Spirito! Bravura, a choir of approximately 50 high-school girls based in Elmhurst. Paul French, the Ferris Chorale’s music director, conducted.

Each ensemble also performed on its own. Led by their music director, Molly Lindberg, the Spirito! singers offered three works, including Randall Thompson’s familiar, glowing Alleluia and a rousing spiritual. French conducted the Ferris singers in four exquisitely shaped a cappella selections by contemporary American composer Eric Whitacre.

Written at the end of the 1880s, Faure’s Requiem is a most comforting piece of liturgical music. It has none of the fearsome images of searing hellfire that erupts in the requiems of Verdi and Berlioz. Faure is more interested in soothing the soul rather than scaring it to death.

Adding the young, bright voices of Spirito! to the Chorale’s forces of 24 men and women was an inspired idea. Entrances and exits may not have been pristine, but Saturday’s performance of the Requiem sounded remarkably supple and luminous. Even in the flowing, somber melodies of the Kyrie, as the singers begged for mercy, a sense of confident hope bubbled beneath the surface.

In the Offertory, the vocal lines seemed to hover, the long-held melodies and the tightly woven harmonies moving slowly as if suspended in endless space. When the Dies Irae, with its images of a wrathful God, emerged in the Requiem’s Libera Me section, the music turned stern and faintly dissonant. But there were no noisy outbursts, and an air of quiet innocence pervaded the singers’ descriptions of their fear and trembling.

Madonna della Strada has a beautiful acoustic, a fine balance between clarity and resonance. In the Requiem, the cellos and bass in the small string ensemble that accompanied the choirs filled the chapel with dark, velvety tone.

The Ferris Chorale sounded ravishing in four a cappella songs by Eric Whitacre, including two set to poetry by e. e. cummings and Federico Garcia Lorca. French, director of the chorale since 2005, has refined and honed the ensemble, emphasizing both purity of sound and expressive depth.

In cummings’ joyful i thank you God for most this amazing day, the singers luxuriated in Whitacre’s long melodies. Their voices nestled together, swaying slowly, savoring the music’s gentle dissonance.

Singing from the choir loft, the Spirito! Singers let loose in a rambunctious arrangement of the traditional spiritual, Ain’t no grave can hold my body down. The concert ended with three short but stirring excerpts from Handel’s oratorio, Judas Maccabaeus

The program will be repeated 3 p.m. Sunday at St. Cletus Church in La Grange. http://williamferrischorale.org; 773-325-2000.

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