Vienna Boys Choir mix it up with a cosmopolitan “Christmas in Vienna”

12.17.18
Vienna Boys Choir
New York Classical Review

By David Wright

Besides the eclectic programming, let’s not forget the sheer wonder of young voices thoroughly trained and ensembles carefully crafted, and all of it performed from memory. It seemed as though nothing could set Carnegie’s vast space ringing like a high, finely-tuned major triad sung in vibratoless straight tone.

Further varying the mix, the boys shifted into different formations, stepping forward a few at a time for small ensembles, and for one modern piece (John N. Mochnick’s “Ave Maria”) dotting themselves individually all around Carnegie’s large stage. (The ensemble and the tuning of close intervals suffered not at all.)

About a half dozen choristers took solos, some revealing exceptionally pure and strong voices, the others drawing on courage and sincerity to put it across.

It seems as though long, varied programs like this often begin with something a little on the dull side, just for a tune-up. For whatever reason, Mendelssohn’s Veni, Domine, composed for nuns at a church in Rome, sounded somewhat thin both for choral sound and musical content.

However, the very next number, a traditional Gaudete arranged by Gerald Wirth, popped with dancy rhythms, smart phrasing, and bell-like solos. The Christmas hymn “Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen” (Lo, how a rose e’er blooming), performed more up-tempo than usual, avoided sentimentality but still sounded sweet.

The program’s three added items followed: the children’s “Evening Prayer” from Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, and two Schubert pieces, the tally-ho Widerspruch for male chorus (energetically accompanied by an accomplished young pianist from the choir) and a smooth setting of Psalm 27. Even among themselves, the additions had an intriguing variety.

Christmas splendor was represented by two choruses from Saint-Saëns’s Oratorio de Noël, “Gloria in altissimis Deo” and the even grander “Tollite hostias.” The modern-sounding Mochnick piece followed, and was answered by an antique-sounding modern piece, Gareth Walters’s setting of William Blake’s “The Lamb,” full of hollow-sounding fifths in the chorus and modal harmonies in the piano.

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