Quire Cleveland scales the heights with guest conductor Timothy Brown

Quire in SolonWhy can’t the English teach their children how to sing? Evidently, they do so in droves. What else could explain the wealth of music for choruses that the country has produced over the ages?

There are many other reasons, including religion, as Quire Cleveland explored over the weekend at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland and Church of the Resurrection in Solon, where the ensemble performed “Musick’s Praier: The Glories of English Choral Music” under guest conductor Timothy Brown.

The program was devised by Brown, an admired British choral conductor who led the Choir of Clare College at Cambridge University for three decades. Drawing works from the 16th to 20th centuries, he demonstrated the versatility of English composers in providing music for many aspects of church services.

Brown structured the program not in chronological order, but according to sacred categories, such as mass, psalms and anthems. Through this juxtaposition of the old and the newer, the repertoire gave credence to the reality that religious texts are among the most flexible narratives we have.

It was enlightening Sunday in Solon to hear how John Taverner illuminated mass movements in the 16th century through keen melding of words and music and then to listen (quickly) to Giles Swayne’s Missa brevissima (1997), which packs an entire mass into five minutes of vibrantly dramatic and often pungent activity.

Every piece Brown chose confirmed the glorious nature of these composers’ inspirations. Two pieces by William Byrd – one full of metrical changes, the other long on gorgeous counterpoint – were highlights.

So, too, were the harmonic splendors in Lennox Berkeley’s “Judica me” and the poetic writing in Charles Villiers Stanford’s “Beati quorum via,” among many other pieces.

Delving into recent works, or even those past the 18th century, is a sometime thing for the marvelous Quire Cleveland, which mostly focuses on Renaissance and Baroque music. But the ensemble more than met the challenges posed by the music on this occasion, whatever the period, and responded vibrantly to Brown’s intense and supple leadership.

The conductor molded performances of crystalline clarity and expressive urgency, whether the choristers were trading phrases, singing with clarion elegance or supporting colleagues in solo turns.

For most of the concert, the ensemble was arrayed in various configurations at the far end of the chapel, which was built in 2004. The acoustics sent Quire Cleveland’s voices lucidly into space, and the sound became even better when the singers moved forward to perform an encore in what appears to be the room’s sweet spot.

Situated near the audience in Christopher Tye’s “Nunc dimittis,” Brown and his newfound friends achieved something on the order of bliss.

Photo by Donald Rosenberg, © 2011 cleveland.com, used with permission.