Tanglewood Review: Harmony prevails with Chanticleer


LENOX -- "He Said / She Said": It was a nice hook for the concert by the 12 tails-clad gentlemen of Chanticleer.

Trouble is, you can’t tell a female composer from a male composer by the sound of their music, and as far as relations between the sexes go, there was nothing in these six centuries of song to surprise or titillate, nothing to promote a suggestion of equal rights. Harmony prevailed in both the singing and the emotional temperature.

An enthusiastic audience welcomed the San Francisco-based male chorus back to Tanglewood on Wednesday night. Despite the rigors of touring, which one of the singers bemoaned from the stage, the group sounded like the much-lauded, much-recorded ensemble that has endeared itself to the public.

Male and female composers got equal billing, beginning with Hildegard von Bingen and going right up to the present, and after a dip into Renaissance polyphony, love between man and woman was mostly on the composers’ minds. Still, with its vibrato-free, or sometimes nearly vibrato-free, harmonizations, Chanticleer tended to render even love cool, colorless and correct.

Despite the theme, this was a standard Chanticleer program, with the 12 men marching about and changing formations with military precision, and the 12 matched voices near perfection in intonation and expression.

The first half of the evening went from Renaissance selections to the romantics (democratically, Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn got one song apiece) and samplings of Ravel and spruced-up Barber. The second half was on the lighter side, with contemporary pieces, a bit of Broadway and folk song arrangements, including a too-tricky arrangement of a medley of spirituals. The polyphony in the Renaissance pieces was beautifully clear and balanced, but the arrangements of the newer pieces seemed generally overdone.

One song stood out amid the tide of cleaned-up, cooled-off passions: Stacy Garrop’s "Give Me Hunger," a 2013 Chanticleer commission. Based on a Carl Sandburg poem, it begins with a hammering plea for pain if need be, but resolves into a rapturous plea for love. Music and text become one.

There was also a lovely French folk song about longing for love, and a playful Russian song about sneaking off for love. Even in these charged moments, he and she seemed chaste.


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