Monday, October 30, 2006

Argentina-born Composer Ezequiel Viñao's New Choral Work "The Wanderer" Inspired By Renaissance Six-Part Counterpoint

"Chanticleer, as fans of the popular men's chorus know, draws its name from the clear-singing rooster in Chaucer's ``Canterbury Tales.'' For going on three decades, the group has lived up to the image: 12 men whose confident, clear-as-water sound lies somewhere between the Beach Boys and a choir of angels.

Its first program of the new season, titled ``Quotations,'' posed a couple of challenges, though. One, the group was breaking in seven new singers; and two, it was doing something really risky, taking on the music of six living composers, much of it brand new.

No problem: Saturday at Mission Santa Clara, where ``Quotations'' had its fourth Bay Area performance (including its premiere in Berkeley last week), the music was as gorgeously sung as it was ambitious.

Music director Joseph Jennings must be some kind of magician to coax the reconfigured group (which takes on new members each season, though usually not this many) into shape so quickly, but there it was.

All those light, creamy harmonies were tucked into place for ``In Praise of Music'' by Robert Kyr, which had its world premiere with this program. The music had a taffy-stretching quality of words being pulled out of words, a gentle massaging of the text, about the transporting power of sound.

The heart of the concert came next: ``The Wanderer,'' another world premiere, this one by the Argentina-born composer Ezequiel Viñao, whose translation into modern English of an Old English text about a man's journey from worldly attachment to Christian salvation had the ring of an ancient epic.

Viñao's music, in six-part counterpoint and inspired by Josquin des Prez (the 16th-century composer), was full of drones and curling, muezzin-like embroidery, as well as graduated entrances and slow-building dissonances, chewy and tightly bundled, then opening into miraculous colors. A lot of it was heart-rending, with its story of war and loss:

Mead-halls crumble, kings lie dead

Deprived of song, all the proud ones fell.

Where now the mare? Where now the men?

Where now the monarch?

What became of the high seats? What of the hall's joy?

At this point, the harmonies grew droopy, quietly feverish, almost hallucinatory, as the lost soul gropes toward salvation." ...

Richard Scheinin "New Chanticleer lineup sings new songs as sublimely as ever" Mercury News September 26, 2006

Mission Santa Clara de Asis, in Northern California, in 1777.

Image credit: With thanks.


Post a Comment

<< Home