Donald Rosenberg, Cleveland Plain Dealer — Dec 19, 2009
Music for the Christmas season has been around for more centuries than our ears usually acknowledge. Most of the memorable pieces reverberating through heads this time of year tend to hail from recent times.
So it was a pleasure to encounter such an outpouring of glorious and unfamiliar Christmas works from the golden throats of Quire Cleveland on Friday at Trinity Cathedral. The professional chorus, which largely performs a cappella, was in resplendent form offering four centuries of “Carols for Quire,” as the program was called.
While Quire’s name comes from an ancient spelling of the word choir, the ensemble’s performances are freshly and purely alive. Under music director Peter Bennett, the 19 voices emerge in crystal-clear balance, whether they’re singing in pristine unison or traversing a multitude of lines.
The repertoire Bennett led with graceful sensitivity Friday spanned the 16th through the 19th centuries and many nations. Among the few pieces contemporary audiences might recognize were Michael Praetorius’ “In dulci jubilo” (which Apollo’s Fire and company performed recently in its original Latin version and better-known English incarnation, “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice”) and “Away in the Manger,” though in a setting markedly different in melody and harmony from what most choirs warble.
Bennett and his singers charted luminous territory, starting with Orlando di Lasso’s motet “Resonet in laudibus,” which alternates seamlessly between quadruple and triple meters, and winding up with a setting of “Wachet auf” with two verses by Praetorius and one by Bach.
Everything sounded angelic and nuanced as floated in Trinity’s welcoming acoustics, despite mechanical building hums that occasionally intruded. Jonathan William Moyer took leave of his job as a baritone in the chorus to give vibrant accounts of works by Sweelinck and Bach on the church’s imposing Flentrop organ.
The program ventured from Europe and Colonial Mexico to New France (Canada) and America. From the Old World, there was a stream of rapturous polyphony in John Sheppard’s motet, “Verbum caro.” The Spanish pieces included Fabian Ximeno’s chipper “Ay, ay galeguinos,” with exuberant kicks on “ay, ay,” and subtly graded echo effects in Fray Geronimo Gonzales’ “Serenissima una nocha.”
One of Spain’s most inspired composers, Tomas Luis de Victoria, contributed two works of mesmerizing beauty, “Quem vidistis” and “O magnum mysterium,” the latter moving from hushed, yearning utterances to lilting strains of “Alleluia.”
America’s input in things Yuletide was heralded with the surprising “Away in the manger” and William Billings’ dance-loving “Judea,” while Praetorius, Bach and Johann Walther (comrade of Martin Luther and composer of the captivating “Joseph lieber”) returned musical matters to the Old World.
Throughout the program, Quire’s scrupulous attention to dynamics, phrasing and tonal sheen allowed the music to reach out with touching and spirited arms.