Classical review: Chanticleer

Cork Opera House

Variously described as ‘An orchestra of voices’ (on their website), ‘a full-time male classical vocal ensemble in the United States’ (Wikipedia) and ‘the world’s reigning male chorus’ (New Yorker magazine), Chanticleer gave a stunning display of vocal technique and choral discipline that left me mightily impressed. I could not but admire the technical perfection that they brought to everything they sang. However, I left frustrated.

They did not provide a programme. Instead, different members of the chorus introduced the numbers without a microphone meaning more than half of what was announced was inaudible. Their diction was not at all clear. Their first offering, a motet by Palestrina, was a miracle of clarity and balance. Sung with restraint, reverence, beautiful tone, and subtle use of swell to differentiate the phrases and imitative lines, this was a masterclass in the art of performing Renaissance sacred music.

Regina Coeli by Hildegard of Bingen, was equally impressive and, when they began the next piece from this medieval Benedictine mystic nun it was as if we had entered a different time and space, so refined and ethereal was the quality. Two male sopranos, singing pianississimo, in perfect unison, over a barely audible vocal drone brought us into a sacred space of exquisite beauty. The music became more intense as extra voices entered and eventually dissolved into 3-part canon sung with mind-blowing perfection.

Madrigals by Monteverdi, and German part-songs by Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn, all sung with wonderful attention to creating atmosphere, brought us to Ravel’s delightful Trois Chanson — superb fun in the final roundelay — and marvellously moving part-songs by Samuel Barber. After the interval, I enjoyed Whiteacre’s pleasant ‘A Boy and A Girl’ and the beautifully restrained singing of ‘She is my flower of beauty’. In their final selection they really demonstrated their vocal virtuosity, singing arrangements of modern popular songs, plus some magnificent Gospel and blues, my favourite being ‘Tryin’ to make heaven my home’.


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