Quire Cleveland makes life more harmonious by providing a vital connection to distant lands and ages past, through the human voice. Breathing life into choral music which may have lain silent for centuries, Quire reveals the timelessness and universal humanity of this art. Under the artistic direction of Ross W. DuffinQuire performs nine centuries of a cappella repertoire.

Review: Quire Cleveland: “Song of Songs” at St. John’s Cathedral

Quire-CSJE-022715-Alex-Belisle

A program of twenty-one settings of poetry from a single source might seem to be much of a muchness, but Quire Cleveland’s concert “The Song of Songs: Medieval to Modern” on Friday evening at St. John’s Cathedral proved to be thoroughly varied, endlessly fascinating, and sung with style and total commitment.

Over the centuries, erotic poetry preserved in The Song of Songs has become fodder for spiritual metaphors between God and Israel, between Christ and the Christian Church, and between the Virgin Mary and the faithful. Friday’s program brought together pieces in Latin, English, German, Hebrew and English crafted by sixteen composers ranging from the fifteenth to the twenty-first centuries, and included both Jewish cantillation and medieval Christian chant. For this occasion, Quire’s nineteen professional singers were expertly and sensitively led by guest conductor David Fallis of the Toronto Consort.

After women’s voices sang Flores apparuerunt from behind the altar (with a superb, clear solo by soprano Margaret Carpenter), Fallis and Quire took the large audience on a multi-century tour, stopping in Spain for pieces by Guerrero and Victoria (his madrigalesque Nigra sum, sed formosa), and in Italy for Monteverdi (Pulchræ sunt genæ tuæ). Two German composers had already studied the Italian style abroad, as Heinrich Schütz demonstrated in Ego dormio / Vulnerasti cor meum (full of Venetian text painting) and Melchior Franck in Ich sucht des Nachts in meinem Bette (replete with harmonic sequences).

Quire-Fallis

The program visited the New World with William Billings’s infectious I am the Rose of Sharon, then returned to Britain to pick up delicious Anglican souvenirs: Edward Cuthbert Bairstow’s I sat down under his shadow, William Walton’s Set me as a seal (with fine incidental solos by tenor Corey Shotwell and soprano Madeline Apple Healey), and Ivan Moody’s recent, ecstatic setting of Canticum canticorum I.

Speaking engagingly between pieces in lieu of program notes, David Fallis introduced Daniel Singer, who provided a sonorous Hebrew cantillation of a passage from Song of Songs that itself introduced American William Sharlin’s jazzy Shir Hashirim.

Continuing with North American music, the late Canadian composer Healey Willan was represented by the lovely, flowing diatonic counterpoint of I beheld her, beautiful as a dove, and Rise up, my love. A side trip to Scandinavia visited music by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Hvad est du dog skjon, one of his Psalmen, was a rich setting of a Danish paraphrase from The Song of Songs by Hans Adolf Brorson. The incidental solo was handsomely sung by baritone Brian MacGilvray.

Quire-bowing

Textures got complicated at the end of the program as Quire rearranged its lineup for two polychoral pieces. Orlando di Lasso’s Osculetur me and Hieronymus Praetorius’s Tota pulchra es split the singers first into two, then into three groups (with two groups of three singers on each side flanking the larger ensemble). Even spread over multiple voice parts, Quire achieved a splendid effect in St. John’s reverberant acoustics.

The large audience (St. John’s ran out of programs early on) clamored for an encore. Fallis had one in his back pocket: Canadian composer Andrew Donaldson’s setting of Ego dormio, a fresh, pop-ish piece, continued the long list of different styles composers brought to this evocative collection of ancient love poetry.

On Friday, Quire’s well-blended sound, precise intonation, and vibrant interpretations of music both old and new once again added up to a highly satisfying evening of choral music.

Published on ClevelandClassical.com March 2, 2015. Reprinted with permission. Photos by Alex Belisle.

The Song of Songs: Choral Settings from Medieval to Modern
David Fallis, guest conductor

Quire Cleveland and esteemed guest conductor David Fallis present a special concert featuring the beautiful, evocative verses of the Bible’s Song of Songs. You’ll hear music by such masters as John Dunstable, Giovanni da Palestrina, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Heinrich Schütz, Edward Bairstow, and Healey Willan. Read more (2) »

Preview: Quire Cleveland to explore the Song of Songs in two concerts with guest conductor David Fallis

“Rise up, my love, my fair one, my dove, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.”

Those are welcome sentiments as we Northeast Ohioans continue to slide across the ice, slog through the drifts and wade through muddy puddles, but where do they come from? They’re words from the Biblical Song of Songs as set by the Vatican composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina in the late 16th century. Surge, propera amica mea is only one of twenty choral pieces from medieval times to the twenty-first century based on The Song of Songs that will be featured in Quire Cleveland’s free weekend concerts on Friday, February 27 at 7:30 at St. John’s Cathedral in Cleveland and on Saturday, February 28 at 7:30 at St. Bernard’s Church in Akron.

Invited to guest conduct Quire by Ross Duffin and Beverly Simmons, who have known the Canadian conductor for years, David Fallis suggested a few different repertoire ideas. “We cooked the Song of Songs program up together,” Fallis said in a telephone conversation. “I did a similar program a few years ago when I had a community choir in Toronto. It was part of a week-long mini festival based on The Song of Songs developed in conjunction with a Jewish Community Center that also featured modern dance. I was intrigued that so many great pieces — both early and modern — have been written on those erotic texts.”

The source of the Songs (sometimes called The Song of Solomon) is a complete mystery, and their adoption into both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures makes for a curious study in the development of metaphor. “The Book would make an unusual addition to any sacred scripture,” Fallis said. “The poetry is erotic. It never mentions God, let alone Jesus. It was certainly influenced by Arabic love poetry with its language of longing, perfume and spices, and it became an elaborate metaphor of the yearning of the soul for God — the union when you’re together, the desolation when you’re not. And during the Middle Ages, the rise of Marian worship invited the poetry in through a new door.”

With so much to choose from, Fallis, who directs the Toronto Consort and has conducted early operas by Monteverdi, Gluck and Handel in Cleveland, had to pass up some of his favorite pieces. “All the music had to be unaccompanied, so that left out some beautiful possibilities — a Purcell verse anthem, selections from Schütz’s Symphoniae Sacrae, the motets from Monteverdi’sVespers. And Palestrina wrote an entire volume of twenty-nine motets on the Song of Songs. I eventually chose only two.”

In addition to Palestrina, the program will feature Gregorian Chant, Jewish cantillation (performed by Daniel Singer) and early works by Monteverdi, Schütz and Melchoir Franck, including polychoral pieces by Lassus and Hieronymus Praetorius. American pioneer William Billings is represented by I am the Rose of Sharon, and works by modern British composers include settings by Edward Bairstow, Ivan Moody and William Walton.

“The Billings has a community music-making feel,” Fallis said, “and such a rollicking ending. Moody comes from the orthodox world of John Tavener. His Canticum canticorum I was written for the Hilliard Ensemble, but its wonderfully rich harmonies work very well for a choir.”

Fallis has also included two motets by a fellow Canadian, Healey Willan, who headed the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and built a stellar reputation as music director of the Anglican Church of St. Mary Magdalene. “He was born British but became a Canadian citizen, eventually the only non-Brit to be invited to contribute a piece for the coronation of Elizabeth II.”

There’s also an unusual work by Edvard Grieg on this weekend’s program. His setting of Hvad est du dog skjøn, a adaptation from Hebrew by the 18th century Dane, Hans Adolf Brorson, will require Quire to sing in a fifth language in addition to English, German, Latin and Hebrew. “Ross Duffin did his due diligence and got in touch with the Danish consul to check on the pronunciation of the words,” Fallis said. “It turned out that three Danish speakers all pronounced them differently — that’s how much the language has changed in 250 years.”

Published on ClevelandClassical.com February 24, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Review: Land of Harmony: American Choral

In many “music in history” recordings, the history rides in the front seat with the music relegated to the back. That doesn’t happen here, thanks to some snappy repertoire, a skillful and enthusiastic choir, and a conductor-arranger-historian who really knows what he’s doing. Read more »