How do small choruses manage to stand out in the overcrowded landscape of the Twin Cities choral music scene? Two of the best, if not the best known — The Singers and Magnum Chorum — went head-to-head last weekend and staked out similar territories, with varying degrees of success.
The two directors, Matthew Culloton of The Singers and Christopher Aspaas of Magnum Chorum, are both young and talented, passionate about choral music and willing to take chances.
The highlight of Culloton’s program, “Sticks and Tones: Music for Chorus and Percussion,” heard Sunday at First Lutheran Church in Columbia Heights, was the Minnesota premiere of Stephen Paulus’ “Poemas de Amor (Love Poems).” In these settings of 16th-century Spanish texts. Paulus’ trademark lyricism and complex harmonies were used in thoughtful service of the texts.
Percussionist Dave Hagedorn accompanied effectively on a variety of instruments, from xylophone and marimbas to blocks and bongos. He was an asset throughout the program.
Janika Vandervelde also represented Minnesota with “O Viridissima Virga.” Hers was a richly melodic setting of poetry by Hildegard von Bingen, melding the feel of chant with adventurous rhythms and an accompaniment of drum, woodblock and castanets. The chorus produced a rich, burnished sound that filled the space.
Especially creative was John Tavener’s “Village Wedding.” The chorus stood in two circles, women on the inside, men on the outside, with the women circling around. This created unique resonances and gave it the sense of a ritual.
Aspaas’ program lived up to its title, “Let All the World in Every Corner Sing,” with music from around the globe. However, his reach sometimes exceeded his grasp in the performances, heard Saturday at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Apple Valley.
Arrangements of “Two Korean Folksongs” had the contours of Asian melodies, but distinctly Western harmonies. And the performance of a Luo Spiritual from Kenya was too refined and pretty, with little sense of ethnicity.
The centerpiece was the extended “Son of God Mass,” by James Whitbourn, which was overly dark and heavy. But extended pianissimo singing demonstrated the clarity of the chorus’ sound and its ability to perfectly blend complex harmonies.
“At the round earth’s imagined corners,” by composer-in-residence Benjamin P. Simmons, given its world premiere, proved a fine if undistinguished piece. Simmons is young and has yet to find his unique voice. But he demonstrated real promise.
William Randall Beard writes regularly about theater.