Sunday, March 16, 2003

Appealing Vienna boys' end with dazzling encores

Concert review

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Their Schubert was charming. But it was the encore, "New York, New York" - sung with a German accent - that won the hearts of the large audience that turned out to see the Vienna Boys Choir Thursday night in Music Hall.

No doubt, many in the crowd of 2,150 were curious to see Cincinnatians Ryan Slone, 12, and Donald Smith, 14, the second and third Americans ever to join the celebrated 500-year-old Vienna Boys Choir (Wiener Sangerknaben). On Thursday, the West Chester Township boys were among the 22 boys onstage in the Haydn Choir, one of four touring groups that make up the choir of 100. (The whole choir has been under the tutelage of Gerald Wirth since 2001.)

The choir sang with the purity, focus and extraordinary tone color that have defined this unique Austrian tradition since 1498. But the real appeal was their cuteness. Although they stood still for most of the evening in their white uniforms, barely moving a muscle with hands behind their backs, they were allowed to romp like boys for a few moments in a sweet staging of Schubert songs, costumed as 19th-century Viennese gentlemen.

They walked out like, well, choirboys, intoning Gregorian Chant (Veni creator spiritus), and projecting a haunting sound in the resonant acoustics of Music Hall. Led by their Italian-born conductor, Lucio Golino, the boys handled the sophisticated counterpoint of their sacred selections with precision and wonderfully pure sounds. Numbers ranged from a serene Alleluia by Orlande de Lassus to an overly dramatic setting by director Wirth of De profundis for choir and piano.

Pianist Klaus-Dieter Jung's musicianship was more appealing in Mozart-like settings by former choir conductors named Eybler and Herbeck, where the boys traded phrases brightly and with a great deal of charm.

The choir featured several soloists during the evening. Among them, soprano Wolfgang Haunold, 12, stood out for his fearless composure, arresting tone and astonishing power in numbers such as Schubert's "Heidenroslein." Alto Eduard Hahn, 14, was impressive in his solo during the "Schubertiade," little scenes played out to Schubert songs that showed the boys' mischievous side, and ended with a "Trinklied" (drinking song).

Cincinnatian Donald Smith made his solo debut with a humorous line in "Singa is ins're freud!" (Singing is our joy), a Viennese folk song.

The Cincinnati Boychoir, which opened the evening with three numbers, joined their Viennese friends in Elgar's "The Dance." It was deserved recognition of the disciplined Cincinnati choir, which, under director Randall Wolfe, has now provided three singers to the Vienna Boys Choir. (Andrew Markowich, 11, of Westwood headed to Vienna in January.)

But it was the two encores that had the crowd on its feet, to the tune of "New York, New York," accompanied by one of the boys at the piano. Their last number, an a cappella "On the Road Again," reminded one that they're nearing the end of a two-month, 36-city tour, the last for Cincinnatians Ryan and Donald.

Would they do it all again? "Yes!" was their resounding reply.


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