Chicago Chorale offers music of peace and reflection in Lincoln Park

Sun Jun 14, 2015 at 12:15 pm

By John Y. Lawrence

Bruce Tammen conducted the Chicago Chorale Saturday night at St. Vincent de Paul Parish. Photo: Jasmine Kwong
Bruce Tammen conducted the Chicago Chorale Saturday night at St. Vincent de Paul Parish. Photo: Jasmine Kwong

In his notes for the Chicago Chorale’s final program of the season, artistic director Bruce Tammen spoke of his aim to provide “an island of peace, reflection, and hope” amid the conflicts that cover the globe, in places such as Iraq, Syria, and Kenya. The resulting program—titled Da pacem Domine (Give peace, O Lord)—was a collection of sacred choral works, which the Chorale performed Saturday night at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Lincoln Park.

The program consisted of sixteen selections, organized into four groups of four pieces. The selections varied widely by chronology and geography. The oldest composer, Heinrich Schütz, was born in 1585; and the youngest, Philip Stopford, was born in 1977. In addition to a familiar mix of American, English, and German composers, there were such lesser-known figures as the early 20th-century Swedish composer Otto Olsson and the contemporary Spanish composer Javier Centeno, with whose setting of Da pacem the Chorale began the evening.

The Chorale sang consistently well throughout the concert, with a keen sense of each composer’s particular idiom. But because the reverberant acoustic of the church made subtle inflections of individual notes or words difficult to discern and because the pieces tended to stick to one mood, much of the emotional trajectory of the concert was provided by the juxtaposition of stylistic contrasts rather than by dramatic moments within each piece.

John Tavener’s setting of William Blake’s The Lamb—with its cryptic bits of two-part mirror counterpoint—balanced Philip Stopford’s syrupy Ave Verum, which followed. And Henry Purcell’s setting of “Hear my prayer, O Lord” was performed side-by-side with the setting by Bob Chilcott that it inspired, with both of these rich, linear works following Arvo Pärt’s typically spare and sonorous setting of Da pacem Domine.

The highlights of the program came in the third group of pieces. One of these was an  arrangement of Bach’s “Komm süsser Tod.” Based on Knut Nystedt’s harmonization of J.S. Bach’s melody, this version by the Swedish conductor Gunnar Eriksson calls for the four sections of the choir to proceed at different paces, determined by the whims of the leaders of their sections, who conduct each (in this case, Megan Balderston, Claire McWiliams, Mike Byrley, and Andy Sons). This was the only theatrical moment in a program otherwise suffused with spiritual tranquility.

The other highlight was the rendition of Anton Bruckner’s motet Virga Jesse floruit. While a couple of other pieces had allowed them to show facets of their dynamic range—such as the cries of “Unceasing love” and “Endless your grace” in Stephen Paulus’ “Pilgrims’ Hymn” and the gradual accumulation of sound in Einojuhani Rautavaara’s “Herra Armahda II” from his Vigilia—this was their most broadly expressive performance.

Rather than closing with something familiar, Tammen and the Chorale (with Philip Verhoef as soloist) ended the concert with “Sim Shalom” by the Polish-American Abba Yosef Weisgal, whose distinctly Ashkenazic style provided a sharp contrast with everything that came before. Its ambiguous conclusion left the audience silent for several moments, wondering whether it was truly over, before Tammen’s smile launched their applause for the evening’s tribute to peace.

The program will be repeated June 28th at the Monastery of the Holy Cross.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Chicago Chorale offers music of peace and reflection in Lincoln Park”

  1. Posted Jun 17, 2015 at 1:29 am by Marnie Rourke

    Those of us who came to the Chicago Chorale concert longing just a little more to be spiritually fed, than to be intellectually satisfied, left St. Vincent’s knowing that we had been very well nourished on both counts.

    The concert “Da Pacem Domine,” was exceptional; voices blended and hearts beating to the rhythm of each note — full, half, or quarter — so that one heard every life giving breath of the song as many becoming one. A singer’s well tuned instrument is comprised of their whole body. Anyone can tap their toes, but only the best singers, like those performing the “Pacem” concert, are so grounded that their bodies move gracefully in time with every note.

    We watched as they kept their eyes on their conductor, and as their joyful smiles showed the audience that they not only loved what they were singing, but that the gift they shared flowed freely from their hearts.

    Those who were there left with the gift of peace — peace longed for and granted. Bravo to the Chicago Chorale, and to its founder and director, Bruce Tammen.

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