Choral Artists ride the waves
The sea symbolizes adventure. It also means parting, drowning and, amid its wide expanse, our essential loneliness and fragility in an indifferent universe.
The Milwaukee Choral Artists (there are 21 of them, all women and highly skilled musicians) navigated such elemental sentiments Saturday evening, in a “Watermusic” program (with no Handel). Artistic director Sharon Hansen organized 21 numbers by topic: Water as a Means of Journeying, Source of Separation, and as Endless Inspiration; The Call of the Sea; and Songs of Sea and Sailing Ships.
Concerts by women’s choir tends to yield lots of music you’ve never heard before. Lane and Lamb were new to me. Lane’s Full Fathom Five, a setting of Shakespeare, and Lamb’s The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls (Longfellow) are beauties drenched in the tragic stoicism of those who go down to the sea. “The tide rises, the tide falls,” Longfellow wrote, and Lamb responded with hypnotic undulations that continue in the piano (Ernest Brusubardis III was the excellent pianist) even as the chorus moves on to new material. The sea has its rhythm and is eternal; we are not.
Hansen draws the finest shades of meaning from the tiniest gradations of pace, accent and volume. Her women are so attuned to her and to one another that they become like one rich and varied voice. Schubert and Schumann sets came out sounding like harmonized art songs.
The Choral Artists’ legendary sensitivity to harmony and sonority paid off especially in a set of songs by Debussy and Faure. Those extended, Frenchy chords lit up in rainbows of pastels.
Rick Fitzgerald, a Great Lakes chanty expert, was the guest artist. He came with his autoharp, guitar, raw voice and songs the Great Lakes farers used to sing in the age of sail. Not my pint of grog, frankly.
But I did appreciate his vivid account of the crew of Milwaukee’s own schooner, the Denis Sullivan, rescuing some capsized fishermen off the Florida coast in 2007. (I won’t retell the story; you can read about it here.) Naturally, Fitzgerald wrote a 19th-century folksong about it: Hooray for the Denis Sullivan.
Yar, Matey, I can get on board with that.
This program took place in Immanual Presbyterian Church, 11oo N. Astor St.
Other reviews: Elaine Schmidt.