Tuesday, January 25, 2000

Chanticleer choir captures full cathedral

Enquirer contributor

        When the 12 members of the vocal ensemble Chanticleer filed into the transept of St. Peter in Chains Cathedral Sunday afternoon, they faced a bustling crowd. The spacious cathedral had been sold out to the last seat, some 950 of them, and for good reason: A concert of Chanticleer is a feast for the ears.

        The San Francisco-based group has garnered a considerable reputation for its exuberant musical interpretations. It consists entirely of male voices ranging from basses to countertenors and sopranos.

        One of the most striking features of its sound is the use of the male voice in ranges usually sung only by women. Chanticleer achieves a blend of sound rivaled by few choirs, mixed or otherwise. Its organic fusion suggests a seasoned string quartet. Like other chamber ensembles, the group works without a conductor.

        Sunday's program showcased Chanticleer's eclectic repertoire. Beginning with 16th-century motets by William Byrd and Francisco Guerrero and progressing to the music of 20th-century masters like Olivier Messiaen and Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, the ensemble also featured music from Latin America. The program concluded with a selection of jazz and gospel.

        Consistent within this kaleidoscopic array of styles was the impeccable technical and expressive mastery of the ensemble.

        Particularly impressive were the performances of the pieces by Messiaen and Stockhausen, two composers whose works are heard all too rarely in Cincinnati.

        The fourth movement from Messiaen's Cinq rechants, a primordial, angular evocation of mystical passions, was delivered with a crisp, hard edge. The crystalline dissonances of Stockhausen's early work Die Nachtigall shone in Chanticleer's austerely elegant rendition.

        In contrast, the ensemble's capacity for lush, warm timbres dominated the luminous polyphonic interplay of the selections by Renaissance composers. Their performance of Argentinian music by Ginastera and Piazzolawas positively sweltering.

        Piazzola's Verano Porteno, a languid tango, was written as an instrumental, but the setting for voices captured the flavor of the composers' rhythmically driven music.

        Four silky arrangements of jazz standards and gospel tunes concluded the concert. Written by Joseph Jennings, Chanticleer's music director, these songs were a perfect dessert for a smorgasbord of vocal treats. As the ensemble took its bows, the venerable walls of St. Peter in Chains shook with applause.


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