Music Review: Chicago Chamber Choir leaves listeners ‘at peace’

“We are met for a concert of modern invention, to tickle the ear is our present intention.”

Those were the first lyrics sung by the Chicago Chamber Choir in their 11th Anniversary Season Finale Concert last week in Rockford College’s Maddox Theatre.

Taken from William Billings’ 18th-century “Modern Music” (from The Psalm Singers’ Amusement), the words were a clever prediction of what would be forthcoming from this extremely proficient chorale.

Titled “Let Us Move: The Voice of Early America,” the concert repertoire included a comprehensive survey of early American hymns, folk songs, spirituals, camp songs and even songs based on early “shape-note” materials.

Guitarist George A. Sawyn and accomplished violinist James Sanders, of Chicago, added instrumental excellence to the program; but it was definitely Artistic Director Timm Adams’ brilliant group of fine singers who shone as the stars of an exciting afternoon.

Highlights included two powerful numbers from the Civil War era, reminding the listener of the unfortunate state of our country’s current involvement in war-torn countries across the seas.

“Tenting Tonight,” performed by the men of the choir, painted a vocal landscape of soldiers in the field, with marvelous dynamics and a strong, full-bodied tonal blend.

Later, in “Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger,” the facial and physical expressiveness of the full ensemble revealed how deeply they felt the message of the piece. This emotional involvement was fundamental to much of the music performed in the concert, and demanded the audience’s response. One could not help but come away from the afternoon feeling good, a little more at peace.

Several featured soloists revealed the excellent quality of the overall vocal ensemble, including Erica Beall in “Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal“; seven wonderful women’s voices in “Never Grow Old” from the show Quilters; a wonderfully bright-eyed Shana Harvey, with a delightfully abandoned “Doo bah doo wah” scat-like solo in “Plenty Good Room”; and even a turn at square dance calling from Burpee Museum’s own Lew Crampton.

The major work of the day was “Let Us Move,” by gifted contemporary American composer-violinist Mark O’Conner, his only composition for violin and chorus. It offered the perfect opportunity for guest violinist James Sanders to complement the work of this fine choir. The piece offers bright violin solos, complex choral sections, with intricate harmonies and challenging rhythms, touches of fugue, contrapuntal hints and traces of dissonance leading to a finale of haunting, almost unique sound.

Director Adams is assistant professor of music at Rockford College, in charge of the vocal ensembles. Some of his students joined in the finale, the Wilhousky arrangement of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Adams has conducted the Chicago Chamber Choir for several years. It’s growth and success are a testament to his talent. Rockford College and this community are, indeed, lucky to have him.

Rockford resident Bill Beard has been a professional singer for much of his life, in addition to a career in theater.

from the April 25-May 1, 2007, issue

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