Chanticleer captures the mystery of the Christmas Story in the Baroque Church of St Ignatius Loyola

United StatesUnited States A Chanticleer Christmas: Chanticleer / William Fred Scott (music director), The Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, New York, 8.12.2019. (RP)

Chanticleer © Lisa Kohler

Venanntius Fortunatus ‘Quem terra, pontus aethera’
Josquin de Prez – ‘Missa est Gabriel angelus’
Jacob Handl – ‘Canite tuba in Sion’
Edward Bolton – Reading from A Carol in the Pastures
Hans Leo Hassler – ‘Dixit Maria ad Angelum’
Peter Philips – ‘Gaudens gaudebo’
William Byrd – ‘Ecce virgo concipiet’
John Jacob Niles (arr. by John Rutter) – ‘I wonder as I wander’
Francisco López Capillas – ‘Cui luna, sol et omnia’
Michael Praetorius – ‘Quen pastores laudvere’ (arr. Harry Christophers), ‘In dulci jubilo à 8’
Cristóbal de Morales ‘Pastores dicite, quidnam vidistis’
Pierre de Manchicourt – ‘Reges terrae’
Trond Kverno – ‘Corpus Christi Carol’
Herbert Howells – ‘A Spotless Rose’
Franz Biebel – ‘Ave Maria’
Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry – ‘I Sing the Birth’
Nicolas Saboly – ‘Touro-louro-louro’ (arr. Robert Shaw & Alice Parker)
Rosephanyne Powell – A Christmas Medley
Traditional Carols – ‘I Saw Three Ships’ (arr. Sir David Willcocks); ‘Rocking Carol’ (arr. Martin Shaw); ‘La Virgen lava paneles’, ‘Susanni’ & ‘Away in a Manger’ (arr. Shaw/Parker)

Chanticleer’s impact on the performance of choral music in America is immeasurable. In the late 1970s when Louis A. Botto founded the group in San Francisco, an all-male, adult ensemble singing music of the Renaissance was rarely encountered in the US. In much of the country, countertenors were almost a curiosity, sometimes prompting laughter from audience members unaccustomed to hearing a man sing in the treble range. Chanticleer not only introduced new choral sonorities, the group broke ground in performance practice for Renaissance music and was instrumental in the revival of the Baroque music of South America.

When it comes to Christmas choral music, Chanticleer’s impact over the past forty-plus years is really only rivaled in the US by that of Sir David Willcocks and King’s College Cambridge. The popularity of Lessons and Carols services is proof of this second British Invasion which altered much of the American church musical landscape almost beyond recognition, especially at Christmas. If Chanticleer had patented the format of its traditional Christmas program – an historical, multi-cultural musical tour of seasonal music – it could have probably dispensed with the need for fund raising long ago.

In the Baroque splendor of St. Ignatius Loyola on the Second Sunday of Advent, a capacity crowd listened as Chanticleer again sang the music of the Christmas Story. The ensemble is at ease in two millennia of musical styles, and its sound is about as close to perfection as one can imagine. All this sublimity could be cloying, but the freshness of the repertoire and the solos keep it real. It is amazing that singers who have such individual personal styles and sounds when they step out to sing a solo can create such a wonderful homogenous sound as a group.

The medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music resounded beautifully in the church. The complex polyphony of Josquin de Prez’s ‘Missa est Gabriel angelus’, which told of the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary with the news that she would bear a son, emerged clear and brilliant. Peter Philips’s ‘Gaudens gaudebo’, an eight-part motet composed for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (which, by coincidence, was the day of the concert), was notable for the ensemble’s articulation of the text. The words ’In dulci jubilo’ rang out with bell-like clarity in Michael Praetorius’s eight-part setting for double choir of the traditional hymn which the composer set no less than a dozen times.

Chanticleer paid homage to its American antecedents with music by John Jacob Niles and traditional carols arranged by Robert Shaw and Alice Parker. Niles’s ‘I wonder as I wander’ was given a British twist in John Rutter’s setting of this beloved Appalachian folk tune, but tenor Andrew van Allsburg’s solo was easy and all-American. Voices don’t come any more beautiful than his. The Shaw/Parker carol arrangements with their clear, open harmonies have been mainstays of the choral repertoire for over fifty years. ‘Away in a Manger’ is one of the simplest of the Shaw/Parker arrangements, performed here with a purity of emotion and tenderness that underscored the mastery, style and taste of these two seminal figures of the American choral tradition.

On the playlist of Chanticleer’s hit tunes, the twentieth-century German composer Franz Biebl’s ‘Ave Maria’ tops the list, performed here in a setting for a trio of soloists and four-voice choir. Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s setting of Ben Johnson’s ‘I Sing the Birth’ was exceptional for the richness of the ensemble’s sound in an exuberant performance of this choral jewel. An easy conversational flow marked the antiphonal singing in Sir David Willcocks’s ‘I Saw Three Ships’ and the Shaw/Parker arrangement of ‘Touro-louro-louro’.

The final work on the program, Rosephanyne Powell’s A Christmas Medley, was commissioned by Chanticleer in 2017. Powell created a joyous setting of four songs that started toes tapping, and ‘Go, Tell It on the Mountain’ almost got the audience clapping. Three soloists shook off their choirboy demeanor and sent their voices soaring through the church. Tenor Matthew Mazzola prompted an outburst of applause before he could finish ‘Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow’, and Cortez Mitchell’s stunning countertenor was simply magical in ‘Mary Had a Baby’. Tenor Brian Hinman’s mega-watt singing of ‘Come an’ See’ would have been at home in Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular.

Rick Perdian

1 thought on “Chanticleer captures the mystery of the Christmas Story in the Baroque Church of St Ignatius Loyola”

  1. Enjoyed the article, always great to learn more about Chanticleer. Was very pleased you mentioned the ‘Christmas Medley’ and credited the three soloists. That’s a favorite of mine as my son Matthew has been the soloist on ‘Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow’ in 2017 and again this year.


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