Music Director Christian Grube
It has been said since time immemorial that the voice is the greatest musical instrument. Remembering the artistry of great singers like Pavarotti and Callas, the adage gains momentum. And the beautiful tradition continues with 10-year-old Dutch “Wunderkind” Amira Willighagen, who has set the operatic world on fire with her magnificent soprano voice –- a voice like that of a mature operatic diva of the past. As for choral groups, the concert we heard from the Santa Cruz Chorale last weekend reminded us at times of the great European choral tradition we have come to expect from magnificent German choirs.
Under the guidance of Music Director Christian Grube, the Santa Cruz Chorale has made its mark! Equipped with many well deserved laurels including the National Medal for Distinguished Service, Germany’s highest civilian honor, Maestro Grube continues his studious labor of love devoted to the realization of the severe, if intermittently beautiful austerity of mid-to-late Renaissance music. With many hours of private practice, rehearsal and perseverance, the Chorus has come into its own as we observed in its concert presentation on Saturday, June 25 at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Santa Cruz.
Presented in this concert was a grand sampling of works in the following order: Jubilate Deo omnis terra by Andrea Gabrieli (1533-1585), O magnum mysterium by Jacob Gallus (1550-1591), In festo sanctissimae Trinitatis by Heinrich Isaac (ca. 1450-1517), Duo seraphim by Jacob Gallus, Duo seraphim by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612), O Domine Jesu Christe by Giovanni Gabrieli (ca. 1553-1612), Exsultate justi by Lodovico Grossi da Viadana (1560-1627), Jerusalem Gaude by Jacob Gallus), performed by the Monterey Bay Sinfonietta, Deus in adjutorium meum by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976).
As the Britten work got underway, a gentleman in the chorus fainted – perhaps overcome by a combination of the “on-stage” heat and the glorious music. The usual call, “Is there a Doctor in the house” summoned no less than three who administered assistance while 911 was called. After approximately 30 minutes, all was well, the man was wheeled out waving that he was indeed fine, and the Britten was restarted. Jauchzet dem Herren, alle Welt, SWV 36 by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) concluded the rather vast array of works we heard during the first half of the concert.
After intermission a most impressive performance of Igor Stravinsky’s Mass for Mixed Chorus and Double Wind Quintet, composed between 1944-1948, opened the second half of the concert, followed by Ich weiß, daß mein Erlöser lebt (SWV 939), from Geistliche Chormusik (1648) by Heinrich Schuetz, Pater noster by Stravinsky and finally Confitebor tibi Domine by Giovanni Gabrieli ended this significant collection of works. The overall performance, as one would now expect from the Santa Cruz Chorale, was excellent. Voices ranged from a delicate transparency to a splendidly full chorus. Instrumental support was intentionally discreet, but colorful. At times the surround sound effect created spatial separation and tonal contrast that was imaginative and enterprising.
All of the works presented were noteworthy, however, the striking centerpiece of the concert was Stravinsky’s Mass. Two oboes, English Horn and trumpets surrounded the start of the lovely Kyrie, followed by the choir. The brass opened the Gloria and featured the solo voices of soprano Suzanne Duval and well-known Alto Solmaaz Adeli. Tenor Jas Cluff and bass Denis Haskin filled out the quartet. The Gloria offered a chant-like texture and a delightful blend of alto solo, instrumental and quasi recitativo section that merged into a vocal chorus, all well balanced under the keen eye and ear of Maestro Grube’s baton. Several works used a spatial setting, placing a group of ten vocalists off to the left while the remaining chorus members were placed center stage. The Jerusalem Gaude featured the wonderful musicianship and virtuosity of The Monterey Bay Sinfonietta, which consisted of Carol Panofsky and Jeff Gallagher playing oboe, Shelly Phillips on English horn, Mihail Iliev and Lawrence Rhodes playing bassoon, Charles Old and Kevin Jordan playing trumpet, and finally John Thomas, Michael Cushing and Charlie McDowell playing trombone and sackbut.
The Santa Cruz Chorale made its mark in this final concert of its season. The audience acknowledged its appreciation with a well deserved round of hearty applause.