News Column

Music review: St. Louis Chamber Chorus explores Latin

February 24, 2014

By Sarah Bryan Miller, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Feb. 24--The St. Louis Chamber Chorus continued its multilingual musical journey through the ancient world on Sunday afternoon with Concert IV, "The Ancients Speak Latin" at the 560 Music Building.

It's hard to imagine anyone but SLCC artistic director Philip Barnes putting this program together. This was not, for the most part, the Latin of the church, but the Latin of secular poets, of Horace and Catullus, with some balance from the Song of Songs, in Latin translation, and from a 13th-century interloper, Jacopone da Todi, contrasting composers and their varying styles.

The main event was a world premiere, "Iam ver egelidos (Now spring brings back unchilled warmth)," by Latvian composer Ugis Praulins (b. 1957). Praulins is an ex-choirboy and longtime rocker who has found his way into composing for classical ensembles; his is an important voice. A commission by the SLCC, it was the gift of an anonymous donor.

"Iam," with a text by Catullus, is a complex work. It starts and ends with whispers, like spurts of spring wind, and mixes rock rhythms with phrases that influenced by liturgy and other different sources. In places, it features a stratospheric tessitura for the first sopranos, and it challenges the choir throughout. Praulins has done a terrific job of accompanying the text in a knowing and sympathetic way; with luck, Barnes will give audiences a second hearing of it soon.

The program opened with three different settings of an elegiac couplet by Catullus (c. 84-54 B.C.), "Odi et amo," "I hate and I love. Why do I do this, perhaps you ask? I don't know, but I feel it happening, and I'm being crucified."

The first was by Praulins. The second, in complete contrast, was by the Renaissance composer Jacob Handl (1550-1591); while pretty, it didn't offer much evidence that Handl grasped the essence of the poem. The third was a typically rhythm-driven excerpt from "Catulli carmina" by Carl Orff (1895-1982), the X-rated sibling of his popular "Carmina burana."

From there, the program moved to two settings of the erotic "Veni, delicte me (Come, my beloved)" from the Song of Songs, one of the most improbable bits of the Bible.

The first was the beautiful version by Palestrina (c. 1525-1594); the second was a sensual, seductive setting by Wolfram Buchenberg (b. 1962) that captured the essence of the text.

"In Honorem Vitae," a group of five poems by Horace set by Antonin Tucapsky (b. 1928), closed the first half.

An unusual (for the SLCC) number of issues afflicted the first half, from some problematic entrances to occasional uncertainty in the sopranos, but the overall quality was still high.

Things settled down in the second half, with two gorgeous settings by Randall Thompson (1899-1984), one by Johann Walther (1496-1570) and a return visit by the "Stabat Mater" of Stephen Paulus (b. 1949), all beautifully sung.


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Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

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