Review: Quire Cleveland: Carols for Quire 2

When Quire Cleveland presented its first round of carol concerts last December, the event gave every indication of becoming an instant tradition. Sure enough, Carols for Quire 2 (perhaps a nod to David Willcocks’ famous Oxford University Press Carols for Choirs books) found this excellent professional vocal ensemble back at Trinity Cathedral for two concerts on December 3 & 4, now under the direction of artistic director Ross W. Duffin. As one would expect, the 16-voice Quire was nearly flawless in its elegant vocal journey through representative carols of Spain, England, France, Germany and the New World, with a few motets mixed in to provide some liturgical gravitas. I heard the concert on Saturday evening along with an enthusiastic audience that filled all the chairs set out in Trinity’s nave and transepts.

As Duffin noted in an interview with ClevelandClassical.com, traditions aren’t supposed to change all that much, and indeed the 2010 program resembled the previous edition in most respects. Beginning charmingly with the open, medieval harmonies of Orientis partibus (aka the Song of the Ass as it figured in Beauvais Cathedral’s irreverent Feast of Fools celebration), the program continued with a carol-motet by Lassus, a trio of Spanish Carols that allowed for some folksy vocal outcries, a carol-motet by William Byrd, a quasi-English set including Personent Hodie, Holst’s In the Bleak Midwinter and H.W. Davies’ The Holly and the Ivy, a Daquin Noël on the choir organ by Jonathan William Moyer, and a 10-voice motet by Gabrieli — all in the first half.

After intermission, the program continued with a French set including the French Canadian Native Huron Carol, a raucous and engaging grand orgue Noël by Michael Corette on Une jeune pucelle (same tune as the Huron Carol), four early American carols with bracing harmonies by Billings and company, Victoria’s mystical motet O Magnum Mysterium, and four German carols ending with J.S. Bach’s setting of Wachet auf from Cantata 140.

Tonight’s programming was scholarly without being pedantic, its presentation subtle and nuanced yet warm and communicative. Detailed program notes and extensive biographies of the performers were included in the printed leaflet along with complete texts (even for the English works) and translations.

Beautiful, blended, well-balanced singing was the norm throughout the evening, and Quire demonstrated its vocal richesse in the number of individuals who distinguished themselves in incidental solos, not to mention in multiple roles (Jonathan William Moyer sang in the ensemble, took vocal solos and played organ solos and continuo to splendid effect). With the help of Trinity’s resonant acoustics (not to mention its inspiring Gothic architecture), Quire sounded just about as close to a fine English cathedral choir as one is likely to experience without crossing the Pond.

This concert provided a lovely antidote to the usual ambient music of the season. We look forward to Carols for Quire 3.