Chicago Chorale marks anniversary with Howells favorite and new works

Sun Jun 12, 2016 at 1:39 pm

By John Y. Lawrence

Bruce Tammen led the Chicago Chorale in a 15th anniversary concert Saturday night at Hyde Park Union Church. File photo: Jasmine Kwong

It is a testament to the Chicago Chorale’s drawing power that its 15th Anniversary Concert was fully attended Saturday night, in spite of temperatures in the 90’s and minimal air conditioning in the Hyde Park Union Church.

Artistic director Bruce Tammen opened the program with Herbert Howells’ Requiem, which had been the centerpiece of the Chorale’s first full concert. The work is a curious blend of styles: bare and declamatory in the opening movements, richer in its settings of the actual “Requiem aeternam” text.

In his program notes for the concert, Tammen wrote that “No one expresses grief, and hope, better than Howells.” The Chorale’s performance was polished and technically sound, but that quality of grief seemed missing, or at least muted Saturday. In their rendition, the music seemed attractive and amiable.   

All four soloists were quite fine. Elizabeth Tuazon, Amy Ripepi, and Michael Byrley sang Psalm 23 with exactly the halcyon clarity one wishes for in quasi-Medieval music such as this. The standout was baritone Will Myers, not only because he simply had the most to do, but also because of the firmness and warmth of his tone. 

Next on the program was the third movement from Path of Miracles by the contemporary British composer Jody Talbot. The piece represents four locations along the pilgrimage route from France to Santiago de Compostela. The movement that they sang represents the Cathedral in Léon. 

It was an ambitious choice. As Tammen himself explained to the audience, the movement is written for seventeen independent parts. Truthfully, this somewhat over-extended the choir. Not all of the little groups were up to their parts, and certain lines were blurred or occasionally frayed. 

But there were many moments when technical difficulties seemed irrelevant. The sudden color-shift from minor to major, two thirds through the piece, was effectively rendered. And one really felt the wash of sunlight depicted at the piece’s conclusion.   

The chorale finished the evening strongly with three Spanish works, all somewhat Romantic in sensibility. The first was the world premiere of Javier Centeno’s honeyed Scapulis suis, for which Jessica Melger provided a soprano solo that soared falcon-like above the chorale’s backdrop. The final two were Javier Busto’s plush settings of Ave Maria and O magnum mysterium.  

Under Tammen, the Chorale sang these three pieces with a difference. Maybe it was the stylistic difference between these and the previous selections with the Spanish works having greater melodic directness. Or maybe Tammen and the Chorale were keeping their trump cards up their sleeves until the finale. But they brought the greatest dynamic flexibility and intensity to these three songs And as the final “Alleluia!” rang out, it was clear that they know exactly how to end a concert.

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