Chicago Chamber Choir offers wide-ranging selections in earthy program

Mon Apr 12, 2010 at 9:58 am

By Wynne Delacoma

Chicago is blessed with a wide array of fine choral ensembles, and among them is the Chicago Chamber Choir.

To close out their 14th season, the choir conducted by artistic director Timm Adams is presenting a program titled “Grounded: Songs of Our Majestic Earth.’’ The choir is doing a four-year survey of the basic elements of physical life—earth, air, fire and water—that opened last season with a concert devoted to water music of all types. After the performance of “Grounded” Sunday afternoon at Unity Lutheran Church on the North Side, the urge to go out and hug a tree was almost overwhelming.

The choir of approximately 40 young singers is highly polished, though their onstage manner is upbeat and relaxed. Their tone is rich and impeccably blended, engulfing the audience in full-bodied but colorful sound. Unity Lutheran is an ideal venue—intimate, with acoustics that are warm and resonant. Unlike the acoustics in some churches, however, they never muddy the sound of the choir’s carefully shaded phrasing.

The repertoire was engagingly eclectic, ranging from Awake the Harp, a triumphant chorus from Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, to an alternately meditative and rousing arrangement of This land is your land. The first half of the program, which included two songs for male chorus by Schubert as well as two charming English folk songs, praised the glory of the earth. The second half took a darker look, epitomized by Alberto Grau’s Kasar mei la gaji (The earth is tired). With phrases that ended in drooping sighs and consonants that snapped and hissed like angry snakes, it was a chilling portrait of a despoiled planet.

The title of Grau’s song echoed the final line of a setting by Jackson Hill of a Japanese poem, Aki no ko-e (Voices of Autumn) on the program’s first half.  It was a haunting piece. The choir’s low male voice sounded like a seamless cello line beneath the slow-moving, minimalist melodies of the upper voices. The choir’s ability to spin out long,  luminous melodies was elegantly revealed in A Bit of Earth, an arrangement by choir member Clifton McReynolds of a song from the Lucy Simon musical The Secret Garden.

Most of the program was sung a cappella, but pianist Jay Peterson provided sensitive accompaniment for several selections, including the two expressively sung Schubert songs, Widerspruch (Contradiction) and Waldesnacht (Forest Night).

One minor problem surfaced in a few of the more up-tempo, English-language songs. The choir sang with clear, precise diction, but in fast passages some of the words were lost. Adams chose the program with an eye for pungent texts as well as memorable sound, so perhaps he might consider printing the text for English songs in the program book. It was frustrating to miss crucial words in a witty text like Randall Thompson’s A Girl’s Garden, drawn from a Robert Frost poem.

The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. April 17 in Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church and at 3 p.m. April 18 in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Evanston.; 312-409-6890.

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