Saturday night, Kantorei filled Venue Visitation with madrigal sound, modern non-tonalism, modern compromise music; beauty in several forms to fulfill the challenge of presenting the Christian Bible, divided into Jewish scriptures before Christ and Christian scriptures after Christ.
The program began with four motets by the respected Renaissance Italian Jew, Salamone Rossi (c 1570 – 1630) based on Jewish literature (Adon Olam), The Song of Solomon, Psalm 137, and Odecha ki anitani, (Psalm 118:21-22). These were in the unaccompanied style of the Renaissance madrigals, dance-like, energetic, and mostly homophonic. Each was well presented as soon as the pitch was agreed by each singer.
Three pieces by the contemporary Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt, Psalms 131 and 117, separated by a Gloria. With focus on the soprano sound, the slightly tonic-aversive anthems glistened, with a supportive, but certainly not overpowering bass clef undulations.
Dr. Anthony Maglione, of William Jewell College, directed two pieces, his own composition to “Set Me As a Seal,” and Arvo Pärt’s “The Beatitudes,” signalling the move to the New Testament. The former featured a heart-stopping flute solo by Dorothy Glick and a gallery-positioned antiphonal vocal quartet. The flute continued into the ensemble, but the opening found the listener wishing it would never stop. The solo quartet sings a line in English, and the composer calls for the choir to respond with a Hebrew translation of the identical works. Maglione works basically in a tonal framework, with the freedom to wander granted by current practice. Worshipers among the clouds were evoked with the largely diatonic melodies, with singers in the middle of their ranges for the louder (mf) sections, and icily soft when at their vocal extremes. Singers from William Jewell joined the ensemble for the two pieces conducted by Dr. Maglione.
Arvo Part’s “The Beatitudes,” maintained an atonal sound through use of open fourths and fifths in a sing-song melodic patterns, which landed gently on the ears with the soft, sustained lines. Although not resembling Gregorian Chant, it utilized the abstraction of singing as heightened speech as the concepts that lead to happiness were cited. Leora Nauta, Organist of St Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City, had an inconspicuous participation until, at the end of the recitations, the organ exploded into a thunderous coda and cadencewhich heralded the theological significance of the kind life boldly lived.
The last half hour consisted of Crucifixus, by the Welch composer, Paul Mealor (b 1975). The optional piano accompaniment was respectfully played by Ms Nauta, frequently just a single sustained note, echos of melody, and slight cadences. The baritone solo varies from an almost Roman chant, to unleashed Sephardic style, to pure melodic lines, handled convincingly by tenor David Adams, who was unphased by the baritone ranges.
Section 3., “Oh Sweetest Jesus,” is unaccompanied men’s voices in a modified Anglican harmonized chant style, for a very devout moment. Section 4., “Drop, Drop, Slow Tears,” begins with a single soprano part, spreading out to a full chord in a tonal picture. Sections 5. and 6. would have been the poorer without the optional accompaniment. The Finale, Section 6. begins with a nearly unaccompanied Mr. Adams, chanting a Latin text, eventually joined by the treble voices. The full choir and organ joins in a celebration of the promised meeting of God in Paradise.
Kansas City’s music directors are very open to new music in addition to scraping around in historical trunks, for lesser known, and seldom recorded masterworks from the last six hundred years or so; Kansas City is the wealthier for it.