Performance Report 2: Cascadian Chorale, Illuminatio

The Cascadian performance yesterday was too long to do a detailed movement by movement analysis, but here are some highlights. We began the program in the balcony of the church, which we shared with a bunch of evergreens. The first piece, Tavener’s “O Do Not Move,” is brief but timeless. The tenors repeat the title three times, in three different modalities (minor, major, major with a diminished second), moving from conventional harmony to a more Byzantine sound. The whole choir then joins in, holding a minor chord while the sopranos sing the word “listen” in a descending Dorian scale; the piece then closes as it began. The text, O do not move/Listen/to the gentle beginning, calls the listener to move into a more contemplative and meditative frame of mind.

The second piece, Pärt’s “Magnificat,” also went well. Like most of Pärt’s vocal works, “Magnificat,” is constructed of alternating chant and triadic singing in relatively free meters and different voicings. The biggest challenges for the singer are paying attention and telling a unified story from beginning to end. Here I felt we could have better told the story; the Magnificat, after all, is Mary’s song of praise upon finding out she has been chosen to bear Christ. But the performance was generally good.

The third and fourth pieces, Tavener’s “Today the Virgin” and Górecki’s “Totus Tuus,” were both outstandingly performed. I had done the Tavener in the Cathedral Choral Society several years ago, and here the text was cleaner, crisper, and more expressive while losing none of the punch. (This is probably because the Cascadian Chorale has only 1/4 the members of CCS.) The Górecki was flawless and soaring, better than quite a few performances I’ve heard on CD, and raised goosebumps.

The Pärt Te Deum now ranks as the most challenging choral work I’ve ever sung. Like the “Magnificat,” Te Deum contains contrasting chant and triadic parts; it ups the ante with three antiphonal choirs, an orchestra that responds to each of the triadic sections, and a really long text (the piece clocks in at around 35 minutes). There were a few difficulties owing to the antiphonal arrangement, mostly sloppy entrances to chants, but overall I thought the piece went magnificently well.

The second half was the Christmas portion of the Messiah, which we performed at ludicrous speed. The music didn’t suffer at that tempo—the speed seemed to bring out the dancelike qualities of the early movements.

All in all it was a really satisfying concert to sing, and bodes well for the rest of the season.