Chicago Chamber Choir takes flight in windy program

Sun Apr 10, 2011 at 11:23 am

By Michael Cameron

The Chicago Chamber Choir performed a program of wind-inspired music Saturday night in Northbrook. Photo: Scott Cooper.

The choral repertoire is so enormous —  spanning every musical era — that serving up only choice masterpieces for decades of programs would only scratch the proverbial surface. But there are other legitimate ways for vocal ensembles to fill an evening, and Chicago Chamber Choir’s artistic director Timm Adams prefers to present works that are light and immediately winning, in this case converged under the breezy program title “Soar: Songs of Wind and Sky.”

Only three of the 11 composers were known to me, and while some works were more memorable than others, none seemed undeserving of the lavish attention to detail and infectious vitality of CCC’s skilled troupe of 40 vocalists. Our Lady of the Brook church in Northbrook doesn’t sport the reverberant acoustic we expect in many houses of worship, but the clear textures and polished diction of the singers were able to come through that much easier.

David Avshalomov’s There’s a Wind began with the singers loosely spaced, and random wind sounds were produced vocally with open harmonies, followed by crisply sung English text and a soaring wordless solo from soprano Jennifer Booth. Arching lyrical lines were nicely illustrative of billows of air. Daniel Pinkham’s terse and folk-inspired Awake, O North Wind continued the theme of moving air, as did Robert Cundick’s The West Wind for male chorus.

The premiere of A Paean to Wind by CCC composer-in-residence Clifton McReynolds kept the ball in the air with a series of musings about God’s communications to his flock. Amy Keipert was the colorful soprano soloist. Eric Whitacre turned the text painting up a notch in Little Birds with an ending that included the singers flapping paper in a downward trajectory, a clever simulation of avian wing-flapping. Kirke Mechem’s Everyone Sang was a rambunctious, mood-shifting celebration of the end of WWI.

Faire is the Heaven was the single career hit of William H. Harris and a splendid exemplar of the English Romantic pastoral tradition, sung with richness and warmth by the troupe. Randall Thompson’s Choose Something Like a Star has coaxed many a tear from high school choral rehearsal rooms, and Adams showed that its fame is justified.

Whitacre’s Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine is like a comic book for chorus, tiny vignettes strung together with a colorful assortment of sonic novelties. Nathaniel Adams’ arrangement of the Arlen/Harburg classic Over the Rainbow was surprisingly effective given the original version’s permanent lock on our collective psyches. Harmonies were sophisticated and voluptuous, but the timeless tune was never taken for granted. The spiritual and folk-tinged The heavenly aeroplane by John Rutter proved a toe-tapping finale.

The chorus was ably assisted by pianist Maralgua Darjaa, percussionist Dan Davis, cellist Andrea Nott, horn player Donald L. Opitz, and flautist Beth Campbell.

The program will be repeated 3 p.m. Sunday at Unity Lutheran Church, 1212 W. Balmoral Ave., Chicago.; 312-409-6890.

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