e Joseph Flummerfelt remains Spoleto USA’s Choral Director for the time being, we thought we had seen and heard the last of him at the cathedral, after his retirement from Westminster Choir College. The copious tears that flowed at Westminster Choir’s final cathedral concert last year were much more than just the usual result of “Danny Boy,” their time-honored encore. This year, for the first time in decades, we were expecting to hear his peerless choir under the baton of another, namely Timothy Brown, the distinguished English choirmaster who was named to fill Dr. F’s very big shoes.
But the new marriage hardly outlasted the honeymoon: Brown left his new charges in the lurch and headed home. No idea as to reasons why. Of course, Dr. F stepped right back into the breach. The payoff for us (and his choir) is that we get at least one more chance to experience his unique brand of smaller-scale choral magic that’s been spoiling us rotten for over 30 years.
A cappella singing is any chamber choir’s ultimate test: just one unruly or off-pitch voice can drag the whole group down. But the vocal cords at work here are hardly ordinary: Westminster has been producing many of America’s finest singers for generations. Among many stellar grads is mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore, who was the headliner for June 5’s big choral-orchestral concert. Any chorus is the sum of its vocal parts, and no college choir can claim better voices than these.
And there’s no better way to tame big operatic voices than putting them into a choir and training them to make music as a team. Nothing teaches vocal dynamics better. We may take the choir’s glorious, full-throated choral roars for granted — but the musicianship and control it takes to produce their kind of pure, soft straight-tones at need is where their real artistry comes to bear.
This year’s matching pair of concerts offer the usual eclectic mix of ancient and modern masterpieces. European masters get their due with wonderful motets by Palestrina and Bach, plus some juicy excerpts from Brahms’ beloved Liebeslieder Waltzes. Two of Debussy’s dreamy Trois Chansons bring us into the 20th century.
From there, the fare is all-American. We’ll hear a handful of choral gems from Samuel Barber, including the three exquisite pieces from his Reincarnations. “The Coolin” is one of the most sensual and touching love songs you’ll ever hear. Then come a pair of dandy pieces by Aaron Copland, before the spiritual, “Ride the Chariot,” ends the program with some jump ‘n jive. And let’s hope we get the usual gut-wrenching encore. Please, Dr. F? You may be tired of it after all these years — but your fans aren’t.
You’ve been warned elsewhere to bring your hankies, but don’t worry: if you’ve gotta cry, at least church is a socially acceptable place to do it, and you won’t be alone.
WESTMINSTER CHOIR • Spoleto Festival USA • $32, $25 (restricted view) • June 7, 10 at 5 p.m. • 1 hour, 20 min. • Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul, 126 Coming St. • 579-3100
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