Celebrating mores than 25 years as a women's chorale

     
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Review of Cantilena's Concert: The Echoing Green - Music from the British Isles and Canada

Reviewer: Edward Loechler

View program from this concert

As the soothing voices softly filled the concert hall, the women’s chorus Cantilena seemed to be beckoning me to leave my hectic day behind and be transported to a place of peace and serenity. The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Eleanor Daley was my lovely introduction to this talented group of 28 singers, who were as gifted at singing the gorgeous opening unison of this song as they were confident in singing tuneful multi-part harmony, or more challenging, tonally and rhythmically complex pieces in the rest of their Spring, 2004 concert, entitled The Echoing Green, Music from the British Isles and Canada. Their voices are beautiful, their blend superb and their program varied, satisfying and full of surprises. Cantilena sometimes dazzled, sometimes tugged at your heart, sometimes left you laughing, sometimes gave you goose bumps, but always left you wanting more. What a treat! There is no way to describe Cantilena’s Spring Concert except as a smashing artistic success.

Their second piece The Echoing Green by William Mathias showed Cantilena’s versatility, as they effortlessly wove the denser tonal and rhythmic fabric required by this demanding song. When it ended, I was literally on the edge of my seat wondering what would be next--and I was not disappointed. Their third piece was an a cappella setting of Golden Slumbers and Peter Piper both by Frank Bridge. Golden Slumbers was beautiful, with each section of the chorale singing independently, leaving the impression of colorful ribbons dancing around each other in a summer breeze. It was a charming performance of lyrical complexity, delivered with confidence and verve. “Golden Slumbers” led seamlessly to Peter Piper, which is based on the familiar tongue- twister. Peter Piper proved to be a romp through a tuneful maze that was so delightful and ebullient that the audience greeted its conclusion with giggling and laughter that gave way to thunderous applause. What a hoot--a wonderful choice and so well done!

In “Three Amorous Airs” by John Gardner, I heard most clearly the strength of Cantilena’s inner voices, which defined the chordal complexity (including some challenging seconds) without overpowering the melody or blurring the words. The theme of “three” was continued in their next song Three Ways to Vacuum Your House #3 by Stephen Hatfield, in which the Chorale faced a new challenge: singing in a minimalist style that demanded each section to hold its own against the other sections, which were singing in different periodic phases. Success required discipline and confidence, and Cantilena succeeded beautifully.

The second half of the concert began with Cantilena’s Director Kenneth Seitz playing A Sea Idyll by Frank Bridge on solo piano. In this piece (reminiscent of Mother Goose by Maurice Ravel), Mr. Seitz’s playing was delightful, and demonstrated yet another way in which the program was kept varied and interesting. I would be remiss if I did not mention Cantilena’s accompanist Paul Carlson, who played superbly, and always knew when to come forward and when to fade into the musical blend.

Marvelous programming was evident throughout the second half of the concert, beginning with a nice contrast between the solo piano opening and The Rainbow by Benjamin Britten. Cantilena showed apt restraint and discipline in its simple beginnings, as well as great skill in the challenging pointillist intervals in the latter half of this fine song.

Brilliant programming continued as the music turned from a “rainbow” to “a rainbow memory,” a phrase in the next piece The Chariot Children, a lovely poem by Cyril Dabydeen set to music by Imant Ramish. The wandering tonality and rhythms in the music aptly portray the chariot children, who “race across glory” as the “makers of the sun in the distant sky.” Cantilena did a marvelous job of capturing the spirit of the music, and I was particularly struck both by their ability to sing unresolved appoggiaturas, and the clarity of the final note by the sopranos, which came through so clearly that I thought I could see those “children in the sky,” brilliantly visible in the distance. Given rain, rainbows and splendid sunlight, are flowers not far behind? A June Rose Bloomed was next, which led to What Can Lambkins Do? both by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

What would a spring concert be without some reflection on love, which was the subject of the final three birthday madrigals by John Rutter. It Was a Lover and His Lass had a jazzy, springy, breezy feeling that was nicely done, but I was especially captivated by the second song My True Love Hath My Heart. It began a cappella with the chorus humming chords under the melody, then gave way to a wonderful four-part section, which included the impressive singing of large intervals (always a challenge), and featured fine parallelism, where the chorale’s inner voices repeatedly shone. Lovely, lovely, lovely. In the final piece When Daisies Pied Cantilena demonstrated once again their skill and confidence when singing syncopated, rhythmically complex music, and showed so much grace that it seemed the music was of smooth silk, rather than harsh wool.

In conclusion, I came away delighted and impressed. Cantilena is a superb women’s chorale, and I thoroughly enjoyed their Spring, 2004 concert.

 

 
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