Chicago Chamber Choir polished and impressive under new conductor

Sun Apr 22, 2018 at 12:41 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Christopher Windle conducted the Chicago Chamber Choir Saturday night at St. Matthias Parish.

There is such a bounteous supply of choral ensembles in Chicago that one can barely keep track of all of them. Some concentrate, increasingly, on populist and crossover programs while others continue to carry the torch for the finest classical music of the past and present.

Count Chicago Chamber Choir in the latter category. The CCC presented its third and final program of the season Saturday night at St. Matthias Parish on the northwest side (to be repeated at a different venue Sunday). And both the discerning program and the fine performances show the ensemble to be in exceptional form indeed in its 22nd season.

Christopher Windle took the reins of the 44-voice chorus at the beginning of this season. The CCC was an impressive group under his predecessor Timm Adams, and Saturday’s performances show their new young artistic director continuing the tradition of quality singing and adventurous repertoire.

The vague program title of “Love” did not seem promising but Windle assembled a smart, wide-ranging lineup of music representing its various manifestations, both spiritual and secular.

The main item of the evening was Herbert Howells’ Requiem, completed in 1933. As with the works in the same genre by Faure and Durufle, Howells’ Requiem is a work of solace and consolation rather than darkness, fire and brimstone.

Windle showed a sure hand in this deceptively challenging score. At times, as in the “Requiem aetrenam” sections, the singing was bit generalized and would have benefited from a bit more dynamic and expressive detailing. But on the whole, the young director drew well-blended ensemble and polished vocalism from his singers, with the sopranos secure, soaring freely in their high-flying passages.

Admirable as the Requiem performance was, the Chicago Chamber Choir was at its finest in the 20th- and 21st-century music on the first half.

The concert led off with music of Anna Thorvaldsdottir. The Icelandic composer is currently holds the title of Emerging Composer with the New York Philharmonic, and the orchestra gave the world premiere of her Metacosmos earlier this month.

Based upon an Icelandic psalm, Thorvaldsdottir’s Heyr þú oss himnum á is characteristic, leading off with  a solemn chant-like bass line, as the music slowly rises to more glowing harmonies. This is music of austere beauty and was given, dignified lovely expression by the chorus singers.

Samuel Barber’s Reincarnations shows the composer’s mastery of vocal writing in three selections depicting more varied portraits of earthly love. “Mary Hynes” pains the hectic rush of sudden love in fast hectic phrases, the singers’ word tumbling out over each other in uninhibited infatuation. In the tragic “Anthony O’Daly” the feeling of unrestrained grief was manifest in the jabbing, welter of contrapuntal lines, accelerating to a burst of desperation at  the closing “There is nothing but grief.” Under Windle, the singers painted both extremes with sure feeling, as well as reflecting the comforting quality of the final section, “The Coolin’, ” with consolatory feeling in the overlapping lines.

Kim Andre Arnesen’s Even When He is Silent proved a real discovery. Taken from a text scrawled on a concentration camp wall, the gorgeous harmonic richness of this hopeful affirmation of faith amid bleak darkness, was gorgeous in its melodic and harmonic richness, as performed by the chorus. Durufle’s Ubi Caritas offered a simple and more ecclesiastical yet equally heartfelt expression.

While most of the selections hewed to the tonal side of things, Windle provided some grit amid the cream with Sarah Hopkins’ Past Life Melodies. The Australian composer employs wordless sounds and overtone singing to striking virtuosic effect, reflecting something both eternal and primitive (in drawing on aboriginal chant effects). Under Windle’s exacting direction, the Chicago Chamber Choir’s gave a bravura performance of this strange, haunting and exultant music, displaying staggering bravura and faultless intonation in the final section’s long slow fade to silence.

Windle ended the evening with Stanford’s The Blue Bird. The chorus members conveyed the setting’s sweet melancholy with sopranos flying, avian-like, high above the stave.

The program will be repeated 3 p.m. Sunday at St. Ita’s Church, 1220 W. Catalpa.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Chicago Chamber Choir polished and impressive under new conductor”

  1. Posted Apr 23, 2018 at 8:05 pm by Albert irwin

    As a former member of CCC, I expect this level of performance. I’m not surprised by the sterling review. It was the groups excellent intonation that made me want to be a part of the then fledgling Chicago Chamber Choir. Strive for better. Good enough…isn’t.
    Still love y’all.

  2. Posted May 01, 2018 at 5:26 pm by Mae Pittman

    Dear CCC,
    With much happiness and proud exultation I tell you your success means so much to so many! Congratulations to all, present and past, for nurturing the spirit that is CCC. YOU ARE THE BEST on so many levels!

    Mae Pittman

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