It’s not every week you hear a group tackle a programme of music that spans nearly a millennium, but that’s just what the San Francisco based Chanticleer have taken on for their show in Dublin’s National Concert Hall. Over its thirty years, Chanticleer have built a reputation for excellence – on the evidence of tonight’s performance, it’s not hard to see why. Titled She Said/He Said, the wide-ranging programme features works from composers male and female, familiar and not-so-familiar, from the twelfth century right up to 2013.
The music of Palestrina gets things underway, with the first of three works written for the Virgin Mary. His Gaude Gloriosa is majestic, the voices of the twelve men come together to fill the hall, the soprano countertenor seeming to float across the top. Hildegard Von Bingen’s O Frondens Virga – the oldest work of the night by some stretch – opens with a single soprano line from Gregory Peebles, over a low drone from the tenors and bass, the sound otherworldly, eerie.
It’s not all religion tonight, though. From the vaguely threatening sound of Monteverdi’s Ohime Se Tanto Amate to the lighter, playful feel of Fanny Mendelssohn’s Schrone Fremde, and on to the darker sounds of her brother Felix’s Wasserfahrt, Chanticleer show themselves to be masters of tone, making the shifts seem effortless.
Maurice Ravel’s Trois Chansons are a real joy. Sardonic and sly, the three tales are brought to life on stage – countertenor Cortez Mitchell’s pure, clear voice is a real standout. The last work before the interval is a more recent commission. Taking inspiration from a song by French band M83, composer Steve Hackman’s “Wait” Fantasy is a real epic, the text pulled and stretched in every direction. The audience applauds as they pause before the final verse, but who could blame them when the sound’s as good as this.
The second half is just as eclectic – from folk songs and spirituals to Johnny Cash. Eric Whitacre’s A Boy and a Girl – a series of vignettes, three short scenes that cover a life lived together – is simple, direct and beautiful.
Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire gets the choral treatment in an arrangement by Dublin man Michael McGlynn – his take on the classic opens it up in new ways, bass Eric Alatorre’s deep voice handling the lead, while the rest bring a whole different feel to the song. Bass baritone Marques Jerrell Ruff takes the lead for the last work on the programme. Sit Down Servant/Plenty Good Room is a big southern spiritual – Ruff steps out front, his voice powerful, acrobatic, and full of soul.
That wouldn’t be a bad way to end a show, but the crowd are on their feet, so they’re back for one last go. Keep Your Hands on the Plow is another big gospel number, complete with those classic key changes – Cortez Mitchell is out front, his solo displaying some real class.
The fact that Chanticleer can take a programme as mixed as this and make it all seem such a natural fit is testament to the sheer vocal skill assembled on stage – they make it all look so easy.
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina – Gaude Gloriosa
Tomas Luis de Victoria – Regina Caeli Laetare
Hildegard von Bingen – O Frondens Virga
Francisco Guerrero – Ave Virgo Sanctissima
Andrea Gabrieli – Tirsi Morir Volea
Claudio Monteverdi – Ohime Se Tanto Amate
Fanny Mendelssohn – Schone Fremde from Gartenlieder
Felix Mendelssohn – Wasserfahrt from Sachs Lieder, Op. 50, no, 4
Johannes Brahms – Nachtwache 1, from Funf Gesange, Op. 104, no. 1
Maurice Ravel – Trois Chansons
2. Trois Beaux Oiseaux du Paradis
Samuel Barber – Let Down the Bars, O Death
Arr. Steve Hackman – “Wait” Fantasy
Stacy Garrup – Give Me Hunger
Eric Whitacre – A Boy and A Girl
Trad. French (arr. Alice Parker/Robert Shaw) – L’Amour de Moy
Trad. Russian (arr. Constantine Shvedoff) – Oy Polna, Polna Korobushka
Ann Ronnell (arr. Joseph Jennings) – Willow, Weep For Me
June Carter Cash/Merle Kilgore (arr. Michael McGlynn) – Ring Of Fire
Wally De Becker (arr. Darmon Meader) – I Feel Better
Trad. Arr. Joseph Jennings – Sit Down Servant/Plenty Good Room
Trad. Arr. Joseph Jennings – Keep Your Hand On The Plow, Hold On