Performance diary: The Dessoff Choirs at St. James’ Church

November 21, 2010

November 20
The Dessoff Choirs, which Andy sings with, have spent all fall rehearsing with their new conductor, Christopher Shepard, for a concert of French choral music. The concert, titled “In Paradisum: French Masters from Josquin to Duruffle,” was sublime. I’m no expert on the history of choral music, but I love a lot of French impressionist music (Faure and Debussy), and this concert turned me on to a lot more. It opened gorgeously with Faure’s “Cantique de Jean Racine” and closed with Duruffle’s “Requiem,” which is sterner, less lush than Faure’s famed Mass but exquisitely performed. Poulenc’s “Four Motets for Christmastime” were spectacular – for one thing, the acoustics at St. James’ Church gave unaccompanied voices an almost perfect environment. The church was chosen partly to show off its new organ, and keyboardist Christopher Jennings got a slot to play something without the singers. I’m no fan of organ music, but he plays Saint-Saens’ “Prelude and Fugue in B Major,” which was beautiful and weirdly made me to understand that Brian Wilson must have looked to Saint-Saens as an inspiration. The most ambitious and thoroughly successful segment of the program was Shepard’s selection of Madrigals and Chansons, alternating between Renaissance church music and modern art songs. Out of eight pieces, two struck me particularly: Vincent d’Indy’s “Madrigal dans le style ancient” and Faure’s “Madrigal.” The latter had a text by Armand Silvestre so deep and wise that it made me cry. The English translation by Miriam Lewin goes:

You should know, o cruel Beauties,
That the days for loving are numbered.
You should know, fickle gents,
That the fruits of love are fleeting.
Love when someone loves you,
Love when someone loves you!

The same destiny awaits us
And our folly is the same:
To love the one who flees us,
And to flee the one who loves us!

The Dessoff were supposed to be spending next week accompanying Ray Davies on his East Coast tour, singing choral arrangements of classic Kinks songs. But Herr Davies fell ill and had to cancel. So their next performance will be Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé with the Julliard Orchestra December 13 at 8:00 pm at Alice Tully Hall.

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