Cantate Chamber Singers excel with modern works in mixed concert

Mon Nov 14, 2022 at 12:37 pm
By Andrew Lindemann Malone
Photo of Cantate Chamber Singers

Cantate Chamber Singers. Photo: Jenny Nordstrom

The Cantate Chamber Singers titled their Sunday evening performance at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church Pieces from the Heart. The title was inspired by the love of God proclaimed in all but one of the works they performed and also echoed the title of Abbie Betinis’ two settings of old Latin texts, Carmina Mei Cordis (Songs of my heart), one of two modern pieces on Sunday’s program. Those newer pieces fared the best, while the chorus’s execution faltered in the Bach and Domenico Scarlatti works that made up most of the program’s length.

In the first Betinis setting, Aeterna lux divinitas (Eternal light, divinity), her music made the chewy text flow naturally and quickly, with some Alleluias set with sprays of joyful notes. The 31-voice Cantate Chamber Singers, a subgroup of the larger Cantate Concert Choir, kept up the pace set by music director Victoria Gau and bounced along with the rhythms. The piece switches between two modalities that eventually synthesize to represent the Holy Trinity, a neat trick in that it was both easy to hear and emotionally satisfying. The tempo slowed with Angele Dei (Angel of God), as Betinis set this prayer to one’s guardian angel in ruminative dissonances that seemed to deepen and grow the love in the words; Cantate dug into these to arresting effect.

In The Sun Never Says, Dan Forrest sets a simple poem to an efflorescence of harmonies suggesting the dawning of the day. The whole poem is twenty-seven words long, so each word counts, and the Cantate Chamber Singers used them to paint the picture, with lovely gradual shifts in the harmonies and a natural, affecting climax on the closing words, “It lights the whole sky.” Cellist Wade Davis provided a surging, ecstatic obbligato to complement the vocals.

By contrast, Johann Sebastian Bach’s much-loved motet Jesu, meine Freude had several sloppy entrances, blurry performances of contrapuntal lines, sags in the rhythm, and a general sense of the chorus getting through it rather than singing with confidence. Cantate keyboardist Andrew Earle Simpson took to the organ to provide basso continuo with Davis, but both could barely be heard during the Bach.

Gau introduced Domenico Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater by citing some of her favorite text-painting examples in the work, which made it ironic that it was difficult to hear any consonants in this performance, at least from the middle of St. Paul’s nave. (The same problem befell the concert’s opener, Palestrina’s Sicut cervus.) The Scarlatti bested the Bach in a few ways: Simpson and Davis pumped up the volume and provided a firm footing, and Gau herded Scarlatti’s whopping ten voice parts so that ensemble was cleaner. Still, although the harmonies sounded good, the indistinct diction made it tough to engage fully with Scarlatti’s devastating music.

Cantate Concert Choir performs music by Garrett, Larsen, Gjeilo, Mechem, and Chilcott 5 p.m. December 11 at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church.

Leave a Comment


 Subscribe via RSS