Review by Barry Plaxen
SHANDELEE, NY (August 12, 2012) – Breaking with “tradition,” the Shandelee Music Festival brought a choral group to Livingston Manor for the final concert of the 2012 Festival on August 11, 2012, prior to the two forthcoming solo piano recitals of the International Artists of Shandelee on August 16 and 18.
The decision to add choral music to the mix of instrumental and chamber performances seems to have come form Festival Co-director Daniel Stroup who is a choral conductor at the United Nations School in New York City. One of his student choirs rehearsed in the Sunset Pavilion at Shandelee and when Stroup heard the voices in the venue he knew he wanted to present a choral concert there.
The New York City based Antioch Chamber Ensemble is currently celebrating its 15th season of music-making under the leadership of founding Artistic Director Joshua Copeland (photo left). With the Shandelee hall’s amazingly clear, sharp and stunningly resonant acoustics, the just under a dozen voices presented a program of sacred and secular songs that literally rang out with beautiful tones wafting through the space.
The selections performed varied from Renaissance to Contemporary, with songs by John Sheppard, Jan Sweelinck, Giovanni Gastoldi, Alice Parker, Ivo Antognini (who discovered the group on youtube and contacted Copeland), Eric Whitacre, Matthew Brown and with jazz pieces by Brown and Greg Jaspere. There were piano accompaniments for a few works.
At a concert such as this, “the singing’s the thing.” Hearing the vocal line separations and both consonant and dissonant melding harmonies, the swelling and diminishing sounds and variety of short selections is what it is all about. But I must add that when music by masters is also performed, thrills happen.
In addition to the above composers, two madrigals by Claudio Monteverdi and a Motet by Anton Bruckner were the highlights of the evening for me. Monteverdi madrigals are a mainstay at any a capella choral concert, and rightly so. I don’t think anyone else’s music of that period (1580s -1650s) is as well-written melodically and harmonically. His was the music that was in the forefront of the move forward from Renaissance to Baroque, from madrigals to opera.
Bruckner (1824-1896) on the other hand is not known for choral music and was not an innovator in the sense of Monteverdi (or Debussy). This Viennese symphonist was celebrated for the Romanticism of his symphonies and masses and their rich harmonies (and considerable lengths). Not as well-know are his motets, which are a favorite of Stroup’s and I can see why. As with Bruckner’s symphonies, the motet “Os Justi” that Antioch performed was full of heart-touching, sweetly blending dissonances, and modulations that seemed to come out of nowhere (I love that!), plus harmonic progressions that may have been original when the motet was composed. Those are Bruckner’s gifts of innovation, and for this listener of his music last night, ‘more would have been better’.
Without any hint of doubt about the decision, Stroup and the Festival Board are to be congratulated for using the concert hall for a vocal concert.
Shandelee concerts are sell-outs. For tickets to the August 16 and 19 piano recitals: www.shandelee.org and 845-439-3277.