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Chan­ti­cleer

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Chan­ti­cleer

Duane Smith Au­di­to­rium, Los Alamos, Jan. 24

Since its found­ing in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area in 1978, Chan­ti­cleer has earned and sus­tained a rep­u­ta­tion as the na­tion’s pre­miere all-male vo­cal en­sem­ble. More than a hun­dred singers have cy­cled in and out of the group over the years. The long­est serv­ing at this point is the im­pec­ca­bly mus­ta­chioed basso Eric Ala­torre, who is now in his 26th sea­son of lay­ing the foun­da­tion with buzzing, sepul­chral res­o­nance. Sev­eral other mem­bers hover around the 10-year mark, in­clud­ing Cortez Mitchell, whose as­ton­ish­ing high-alto voice pings out with ab­so­lute se­cu­rity even in its im­prob­a­bly lofty up­per reaches.

And yet, as much as such per­form­ers help de­fine the group’s dis­tinc­tive tim­bre, Chan­ti­cleer is re­ally about en­sem­ble singing, even if in­di­vid­u­als oc­ca­sion­ally emerge for solo turns. Al­though there ex­ists a rich trove of mu­sic crafted for stan­dard men’s choir of tenors and basses, for the most part it is not Chan­ti­cleer’s reper­toire. With its 12 singers equally di­vided among the so­pra­nos, al­tos, tenors, and bari­tone/ bass reg­is­ters, the group is a fully mixed cho­rus.

Chan­ti­cleer bills it­self as “an or­ches­tra of voices.” Dur­ing its recital last Sun­day, cour­tesy of the Los Alamos Con­cert As­so­ci­a­tion, one grew to feel that such a la­bel im­plies that the group is some­thing it is not, at least in its cur­rent for­ma­tion un­der the di­rec­tion of Wil­liam Fred Scott. It is a finely honed en­sem­ble, but it seemed re­luc­tant to de­part from its ba­sic sonic tem­plate. Over the course of its rather long con­cert — nearly two and a half hours, adding in a late start and a very pro­longed in­ter­mis­sion — a lis­tener could grow de­sen­si­tized to the rigidly de­fined sound. Al­though nearly ev­ery num­ber dis­played tech­ni­cal pre­ci­sion, not all of the in­ter­pre­ta­tions were gen­uinely ex­pres­sive. That was cer­tainly the case with al­most me­chan­i­cal ren­der­ings of spir­i­tu­als and pop songs that might have pro­vided lift at the pro­gram’s end. One might have ex­pected more emo­tional im­pact from a pair of Mon­teverdi madri­gals — glee­ful ris­i­bil­ity, per­haps, in “S’an­dasse Amor a cac­cia,” al­lur­ing charm in “Ecco mor­morar l’onde.” Among other early-mu­sic selections, ex­posed writ­ing in Lasso’s “Con­di­tor alme siderum” show­cased the group’s spot- on in­to­na­tion, tricky met­ric tran­si­tions in Bus­nois’ “Gaude, cae­lestis dom­ina” were el­e­gantly fi­nessed (and tenor Michael Bres­na­han sang the work’s sus­tained can­tus fir­mus with un­flag­ging con­trol), and the weav­ing lines of Robert Par­sons’ “Ave Maria” were shaped with a sense of rhyth­mic desti­na­tion. An­other high point, from a later era, was El­gar’s “There Is Sweet Mu­sic,” in­fused with a f low­ing beat and care­fully voiced to bal­ance the op­po­si­tion of high vs. low voices.

An en­thu­si­as­tic pro­po­nent of new mu­sic, Chan­ti­cleer in­cluded three sub­stan­tial scores it had com­mis­sioned. The os­ten­si­ble topic of the af­ter­noon was mu­sic about the moon, and Nico Muhly’s Three Moon Songs, set to po­etry by Al­bert Gi­raud (of Pier­rot Lu­naire fame), filled the bill with some clever word paint­ing if not much to hold onto mu­si­cally. Four move­ments from The Lotus Lovers, by the late Stephen Paulus, dis­played that com­poser’s ge­nial pro­fes­sion­al­ism. The most in­ter­est­ing of the new works was “Ob­server in the Mag­el­lanic Cloud,” by Ma­son Bates (who is writ­ing an opera about tech pi­o­neer Steve Jobs for Santa Fe Opera’s 2017 sea­son). This od­dball piece sets two dis­parate groups an­tiphonally and some­times min­gles them. A lost satel­lite in outer space fo­cuses its tele­scope on a spot on Earth where Maori tribes­men chant a prayer to the stars in which they can­not imag­ine the satel­lite is f loat­ing. The un­know­ing in­ter­sec­tion of eth­nic-sound­ing song and the satel­lite’s elec­tronic pul­sa­tions com­bine with sub­tle touches of per­cus­sion to sug­gest an in­trigu­ing, en­joy­able, and cer­tainly un­ac­cus­tomed per­spec­tive on the uni­verse. — James M. Keller

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