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A Christmas Card For New York

New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art
11/29/2011 -  and November 30, December 1*, 2011
Religious and Secular Music of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries by Andrea Gabrieli, Tomas Luis de Victoria, Francisco Guerrero, Benjamin Britten, Jaakko, Mantyjarvi, Adolphe Adam and music from anonymous sources
Chanticleer: Casey Breves, Gregory Peebles, Corey Reid (Sopranos), Cortez Mitchell, Alan Reinhardt, Adam Ward (Altos), Mathew Curtis, Brian Hinman, Ben Jones (Tenors), Eric Alatorre, Michael Axtell, Matthew Knickman (Baritones and Basses) Jace Wittig (Interim Music Director), Dale Warland (Guest Music Director)

Chanticleer (© Metropolitan Museum of Art)

For those of us in New York, the annual holiday visit by Chanticleer, a group of 12 male singers now performing in its 33rd year, is truly one of the joys of the Christmas season. And this visit was certainly no exception. On the third evening, at the last of six sold out concerts, they gave a charming, committed and beautifully sung performance.

The program covered a lot of territory both temporally and geographically. The chant which marked their entrance through the rear of the Met Museum’s stunningly atmospheric medieval courtyard took us back to the time during which many of the sculptures on columns all around us were created. Candles in hand, the men of Chanticleer made their way down the central aisle, with a few unfamiliar faces visible among the ones we have seen in years gone by.

The group describes itself as “an orchestra of voices” and it is quite extraordinary how much they live up to that description. They produce such a rich palette or colors, textures and dynamics, and all without the benefit of any instruments. The program was a delight. Even the most well known Christmas staples such as “God Rest Ye Marry Gentlemen,” “The Holly and the Ivy” and “Oh Holy Night” were experienced as somehow fresh. They make it all sound so easy but, of course, achieving such precision, fluidity and flexibility, leavened by brio and élan, and making it all appear so effortless and spontaneous is quite an artistic challenge.

“Quem vidistis pastores” by Gabrieli had an ethereal quality as the beautiful sounds seem to float up through the fantastic acoustic space of the medieval courtyard. Guerrero’s “Pastores loquebantur” was sung with great rhythmic vitality and variety. Two two villancicos, “E la don don” and “Riu, riu chiu” brought back memories of an old New York Pro Music recording. Indeed, the Metropolitan Museum, through its medieval collection at the Cloisters, had a strong and crucial tie to the Pro Musica and, with it, the beginnings of the early music movement in the United States.

In this lovely program there were three selections that stood out. The first was Benjamin Britten’s “A Hymn to the Virgin”, sung in a responsorial manner with grace and gentle lyricism and a breathtaking diminuendo at the end. Second among the highlights was a Polish carol adapted by Steven Stucky, “Lulajze Jezuniu,” a gorgeously hypnotic piece. And, finally, there was another selection that was completely new to me, the harmonically inventive “Die Stimme des Kindes” by Finnish composer, Jaakko Mantyjarvi.

Arlene Judith Klotzko



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