Tom Strini

Songs of War and Peace

By - Oct 24th, 2010 02:15 am

Milwaukee Choral Artists

In their Songs of War and Peace program Saturday evening, Sharon Hansen’s Milwaukee Choral Artists and their guests, Timm Adams’ Chicago Chamber Choir, declared themselves against the former and for the latter.

They said so in 22 songs, most of them conservative 20th-century works in a lush tonal style featuring rich, intertwining lines. Elaborate settings of traditional songs (Go Down, Moses; Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again No More, Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye), numbers by composers who more or less specialize in choral music (Randall Thompson’s Alleluia, Morten Lauridsen’s Sure, This Shining Light); and a few wild cards.

The program made for a lot of mid-tempo music in reverent tones, which made at least one of us in the audience a little too peaceful. The lively rhythms and exotic scales of Carol Barnett’s Dance of Zálongo broke the monotony, as did Joel Boyd’s August 1914, with its microtonal dissonance and lines that seemed to warp before our ears. Boyd, a young Milwaukee composer, won the MCA’s composition contest and premiered on this program. His piece is provocative and smart music. Hansen’s 15 women, with their great ears and trained voices, tuned the dissonances with hair-raising accuracy.

The Chicago Chamber Choir comprises 15 men and 20 women. I can see why Adams and Hansen hit it off. They share a highly detailed conducting style that reflects a drive toward perfection. Their singers just don’t allow sibilants to hang over or consonants to be misplaced. Both choirs sing exquisitely. Separately and in various combinations, and sometimes with the help of pianist Ernest Brusubardis III and/or violinist Kristian Brusubardis, the two groups put reverent glows around the songs of peace and hit the dissonance in the songs of war.

Ma Vanu was my favorite number of the night. The piece is nothing special, but the performance was. For some reason, Hanson had her singers form a circle around her. She faced the house for once, and what a pleasure it was to see her from that angle. Hansen expresses her ideas with a vocabulary of lovely gestures and executes them with irresistible grace. She was beautiful to see. It was still more beautiful to see and hear her singers respond to her so specifically and fully.

This one-night concert took place at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Wauwatosa. For more on the MCA season, visit the group’s website.

More Singing News: Click here for the results of the Wisconsin District Metropolitan Opera Auditions.

Display photo of Arlington National Cemetery courtesy of the U.S. Army. Photographer: Kathleen T. Rhem, 2007.

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