PERFORMER: American Boychoir
WHERE: St. Paul's Cathedral
Toronto's loss was Buffalo's gain on Thursday night as the American Boychoir rolled into town on their big blue bus, ready to perform at St. Paul's Cathedral after the choir's Canadian venue canceled the event there.
With little, if any, time to promote the new addition to the church's regular seasonal concert lineup, the church still managed to entice a mighty handful of appreciative listeners for the young choir members before the opening processional, "Keep Your Lamps (Trimmed and Burning)."
The evening's program dove into a number of eras and styles, from playful renaissance pieces like the clever "El grillo (The Cricket)" attributed to Josquin des Prez and "Contrapunto bestiale all mentre" by Adriano Banchieri to sacred songs from the 20th century by Moses Hogan ("I Am His Child") and Keith Hampton ("Praise His Holy Name").
From the beginning of the concert until its end, the pure tones associated with boys choirs over the centuries were in evidence, but just as important in its own way was the American Boychoir's diction, a quality often overlooked when choirs concentrate more on sound production than on communicating the text of a piece.
While the boys were generally in fine form throughout the concert, their performance of selections from Gabriel Faure's "Messe Basse" contained perhaps the best, most impressive moments of singing in the entire program. Their voices, melding in the Kyrie's sublime harmonies and floating through the church's impressive vaulted sanctuary, were enough to send chills down this listener's back.
If there was a drawback to the concert it may have been the program's inclusion of somewhat corny physical mannerisms (hand claps, shouts, digging motions) in folk based material like "Cindy" or any of the four South African songs on the program. The music could very well have stood by itself but movements, which weren't all that coordinated and/or syncopated in their execution, added a touch of minor burlesque to the proceedings.
Fernando Malvar-Ruiz directed the choir most efficiently and, although the boys sang sans accompaniment through much of the concert, note should also be taken of Kerry Heimann's subtle keyboard artistry as he provided the occasional organ or piano backdrop for the choir that never overwhelmed the delicate blend of voices.