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Classical music review: Schola Cantorum of Texas

Posted 12:07am on Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2013

FORT WORTH -- Schola Cantorum of Texas closed its 50th season on Monday night with a program of pieces whose common theme was death. But the evening wasn't as gloomy as that might suggest. Most of the works contained words of solace or philosophical reflection for the survivors of the deceased.

The concert in Arborlawn United Methodist Church opened with Gabriel Fauré's Requiem, a gentle, appealing composition that avoids the dramatic flourishes of a requiem such as Verdi's.

Even the "dies irae" lines, which practically demand a musical evocation of the wrath of God, elicited from Fauré little more than a slight rise in compositional temperature, which quickly subsides.

The large chorus, under Jerry McCoy's direction, gave a lovely and subtle performance, with praiseworthy solos by baritone Darrada Rubell-Asbell and soprano Sherylynn Porter. The "In Paradisum" section, which was melodically sweet and gentle in tone, was a high point.

The chorus was placed on risers forward of the church's recessed choral space, and acoustically benefitted from this. In contrast, last Thursday's performance of Mozart's Requiem in the same church had a slightly subdued choral sound.

Fortunately, Fauré wasn't around to hear the two cellphone rings that embellished his work. One of them sounded a little like cowbells. Maybe the Frenchman would have laughed.

One work on Monday's program was performed "for Van Cliburn and Thomas L. Smith." It was a traditional Russian song with the somewhat misleading title Ducks Are Flying. It is a lament by a person whose loved one has died. The arrangement by Konstantin Belonogov was a moving and fitting tribute; Cliburn was fond of most things Russian, and Schola was one of the choirs that sang at his funeral.

Two remarkable works were Frank Ferko's beautiful The Mother, enhanced by Karla Martin's lovely solo work, and Bob Chilcott's haunting arrangement of Bono's MLK, in which a tenor (Fred Wilmer) sings Martin Luther King's words while backed by a chorus that alternately hums and sings.

Brian Edward Galante's Look Down Fair Moon and Tarik O'Regan's Triptych were two other powerful and haunting works in this unusual program. The texts, by Walt Whitman in the case of Galante and a varied group of poets in the case of O'Regan, were full of striking images about death and renewal.

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