Review: Virginia Glee Club Live!

glee_club_liveVirginia Glee Club Live!, the first of this year’s new recordings from the Virginia Glee Club, is now listed on the group’s website and available for purchase through Paypal. I received a copy in the mail about six weeks ago and have had some time to listen and digest, and I can recommend this recording without hesitation.

After I published the recent series on early 20th century Glee Club history and leadership and, um, performance practices, one of the members of the Alumni and Friends Association commented to me that each generation’s Glee Club is different, and I think that’s right. The 1910s group was as different from the 1890s group as the 1990s version was from Don Loach’s Renaissance singers from the 1960s and 1970s. If each group is different, Frank Albinder’s Glee Club is in unusually good shape. This is the best sounding Glee Club recording I’ve heard in a while. (Disclaimer: I didn’t hear all of the Paris live disc or of Bruce Tammen’s recordings.)

The new disc, as the name suggests, is a compilation concert recording over the past five years, spanning Albinder’s tenure to date as Glee Club director. The repertoire includes some “usual suspects” — “Brothers, Sing On!”, Chesnokov’s “Spaseniye sodelal”, “Ride the Chariot,” and the Biebl “Ave Maria” make appearances — as well as mini-sets of more specialized material, such as commissioned works and Virginiana. The focus on short repertoire makes the disc eminently listenable, and the performance standards are generally quite high.

A note on the commissions: The recording features the first appearance in Glee Club history of the group’s recent commissions, Lee Hoiby’s “Last Letter Home” and Judith Shatin’s “Jabberwocky,” in a set together with the Club’s 1991-1992 commission of James Erb’s male voices arrangement of “Shenandoah.” The Hoiby work, a setting of the last letter home from Iraq of PFC Jesse Givens, is given a sensitive performance, and Shatin’s “Jabberwocky” is the surprise hit of the recording, an adventurous and jazzy rollick through Lewis Carroll’s poem. Sadly, the Erb is one of the few low points on the disc. I remember all too well the many opportunities for a group to go flat in the first stanza, and the Glee Club doesn’t avoid them, ending the piece about a half tone low.

The Virginiana at the end, consisting of Loach’s arrangement of “Vir-ir-gin-i-a”, the “Virginia Yell Song” (which regained currency during my tenure with Club), “Rugby Road,” and the University’s alma maters, is sung powerfully and with gusto (and, unlike the 1972 recording, this version of “Rugby Road” includes one of the more scandalous verses). I look forward to playing it to console myself as the football team buries itself this fall (seriously: William and Mary???)

All in all, the piece is a great souvenir of a student group that is performing at a high level of competence. If the concert recording is this good, I can’t wait for the Club’s next recording, the Songs of Virginia collection.

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