MUSIC REVIEW
Women’s chorus perfects each note
Choral Artists present powerfully varied concert

By Tom Strini of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Posted: Feb. 15, 2009

Sharon Hansen had an opinion about every last note at Saturday’s Milwaukee Choral Artists concert. The micro-managing conductor conveyed her opinions in clear, amazingly detailed gestures. They got instant, satisfying results from her 17 female singers.

It made no difference that Hansen, recovering from foot surgery, conducted from a wheelchair. The concentration and commitment on both sides was palpable in the cozy nave of St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wauwatosa. Watching them interact is almost as great a pleasure as hearing the remarkable music they make.

Almost.

Their singing was intelligent and beautiful without fail throughout an engaging and varied program. Arrangements of two Debussy songs gave them a chance to do what they do best of all, which is tune and balance complex chords so finely that the harmonies glow like a sonic aurora borealis. Vaughan Williams’ “In Windsor Forest,” a substantial suite drawn from Shakespeare, showcased Hansen’s firm grasp of larger forms. “Old Devil Moon” and “That Old Black Magic” (smartly arranged by Choral Artist Paula Foley Tillen) showed that swing comes as naturally as anything to the MCA.

Music for a small women’s choir is little-known country for most of us, so MCA concerts also afford the pleasure of discovery. This time, the revelations were Alice Parker’s delicate, filigreed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Fairy Songs”; Eric Whitacre’s “She Weeps Over Rahoon,” a sensual setting of James Joyce, in which slithery vocal and English horn (nice work by Karli Larsen) lines overlap like serpents in love; and, most of all, Charles Griffin’s “El Paso de la Siguiriya,” on a dark, dreamy Federico Garcia Lorca poem.

“El Paso” is a flamenco a cappella fantasy with episodes of rhythmic clapping, melisma inflected in the Andalusian way and choruses in Spanish dance rhythms. Mezzo Rebecca Davies was ravishing in the solo that is the soul of this piece. She must have listened to a great deal of flamenco singing to prepare; she was at once elegant and earthy.

Much of the choral work in “El Paso” is in free rhythm. Hansen shaped it with a soloist’s latitude. Seventeen voices responded, and the choir became a single voice.

E-mail Tom Strini at tstrini@journalsentinel.com.

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One Response to Women’s chorus perfects each note

  1. Amy Teutenberg says:

    Hi, I am really interested in the “El Paso” piece. I am currently doing undergraduate research on Spanish music right now and supposed to find pieces for my choir and that sounds like a great one. Is there any possible way you could send me the sheet music for it it’d be greatly appreciated? I’ve been having a really hard time finding arrangements of flamenco music for choirs.

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