I Cantori

By Scott MacClelland

I CANTORI DI CARMEL and conductor Cyril Deaconoff (pictured) threw a Christmas party at Carmel Mission that included a lot of unfamiliar guests, music mostly new to the Monterey Peninsula choral community, including some area premieres. Yamaha keyboardist Cindy Shen provided organ (convincing) and piano (not so much) support during much of the concert, often with the Monterey County Pops brass and percussion. A cappella settings freed up the chorus to show off its choral talents with full transparency.

As heard Sunday night, highlights included John Rutter’s 20-minute Gloria, in three movements, an andante with delicate organ tones, surrounded by vivace allegros full of glorious brass. The final vivace went into some swinging syncopations reminiscent to parts of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. And the central andante did build up to a tremendous climax. Rutter’s compositional talents and Deaconoff’s deft hands made for an energized and exciting reading.

Deaconoff’s own A Northern Tale, with texts by Nikolai Kliuev, turned to traditional folkloric and Orthodox church music in Northern Russia, around the White Sea. Soprano Jody Lee was spotlighted against the a cappella textures, while composer Richard Rodney Bennett appeared through his setting of a poem by 17th century poet Robert Herrick, What Sweeter Music, both works sung a cappella. Retired chorister William Gee arranged a poem by Barbara Bullock-Wilson called Leaves Fall in Autumn, for chorus, brass and organ. (The music was taken from the affecting aria “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Handel’s opera Rinaldo, also adapted to a keyboard suite movement as a sarabande.)

In the second half, “O Come, all ye faithful” hip-hopped in a YouTube hit arrangement by PTX and Ben Bram, complete with five solo voices from the choir. From that followed two pieces by the Estonian Arvo Pärt, a “Da Pacem Domine” that used the voices to imitate bells (tintinnabulation) and an exhilarating “Bogoroditse Devo” (sung in church Slavic) celebrating the Virgin.

The program, “How Can I Keep From Singing,” took its title from an exuberant setting for brass, keyboard and voices by Gwyneth Walker. Other familiar and unfamiliar seasonal pieces filled out the concert and led to a rousing finish in Donald McCullough’s “Canite tuba” (Sound the trumpet) for all forces.

To punctuate this seasonal treat, Deaconoff announced that for I Cantori’s spring concert, he will be conducting the regional premiere of JS Bach’s mostly-lost St Mark Passion, as reconstructed by 20th century scholars and musicians.

Photo by John Castagna