By Monica Mendoza
MAY IS ONE of the busiest months for musicians, and the end-of-season concerts are often ambitious in scope. For their final offering of the 2017-18 season, I Cantori di Carmel, led by Tom Lehmkuhl, delivered a delightful tapestry of choral music throughout the centuries. On Saturday at Carmel Mission, the choir sang with a great deal of expression, and even though a wide variety of styles was presented the choir members seemed at home in every one. Performers often have to play or sing in many different styles, and it can be challenging to make the switch, especially during the same program. However, the transitions from sacred to madrigal to folk and finally to American spiritual were all gracefully done.
The program began with the more solemn selections. Works by Haydn, Palestrina and Randall Thompson were performed with great vigor, and filled the whole interior of the mission church. The music of Palestrina was written for skyward church ceilings such as this venue, and it was thrilling to hear this music in its element. Roughly two centuries separate Randall Thompson from Haydn and Haydn from Palestrina, yet his “Alleluia,” sung between works by the two others, fit perfectly. Haydn’s “Insanae et vanae curae” (Frantic and futile anxieties) was about how anxiety can take over one’s heart and steal away all hope, but that trust in God above all else can help relieve such worries. Haydn suffered no shortage of anxieties in his life, so this music probably came straight from the heart. Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia” didn’t feature an intricate text, in fact, that one word was the only one throughout the entire piece. Yet it held just as much power as the complex texts of Haydn and Palestrina. The word was sung in so many different ways, from jubilant to sorrowful to majestic, that it was just as powerful.
After the sacred music came a series of madrigals, secular pieces that are usually written for four or five voices, that were very popular during the Renaissance. The three madrigals featured by I Cantori were written in the 20th century, however. Much like Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony” written in the style of Haydn, these pieces blend the aesthetic of traditional madrigals with modern harmonic language and sensibilities. Gabriel Fauré’s Madrigal in particular is a blend of innovations. The lyrics are a spat between young men and women, subject matter true to the style of madrigals. The actual music is melancholic with an impressionist texture.
The last half of the concert consisted of jovial music from folk and American spiritual traditions. William Dawson’s “Soon Ah Will Be Done” gave an impressive display of the choir’s dynamic range. At times, they would be so soft it was almost a murmur, yet the energy was still there. The final piece of the concert was a blend of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” called Swinging with the Saints. It was a crowd pleaser for sure, and also gave pianist Pauline Troia an opportunity to show what she can do. She did much more than just accompany the choir and played an active role in the feel of the piece. Troia is retiring at the end of this season, and will certainly be missed. She has been an integral part of helping make the music of this area happen, and this was a lovely send off from I Cantori. I eagerly await what I Cantori does next season, and to see who steps in as the new pianist.