ON the second date of its English tour Minneapolis’s outstanding professional choir drew around 150 people to its wide-ranging programme of American choral music.
But disappointing numbers could not detract from the enjoyment of those wise enough to select this extremely pleasant way of spending a cold winter’s afternoon.
The 32-voice ensemble, the core of a larger 130-strong choir, has a superbly blended sound.
It instantly made itself at home in this historic venue with the rousing O Praise the Lord of Heaven by William Billings, a contemporary of George Washington.
The programme, introduced as well as selected by conductor Philip Brunelle, featured three of Copland’s Old American Songs including the famous Simple Gifts, but also music by less familiar living composers like Ned Rorem and St Paul-based Stephen Paulus.
The hugely popular Eric Whitacre, whose music is starting to become familiar here, was represented by two pieces showing contrasting aspects of his style. Water Night is Whitacre in relatively simple mode, working with heavily stacked blocks of chords, while Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine is a theatrical novelty parodying Monteverdi in its extravagance and novel vocal effects.
A different aspect of the American experience was revealed in Native American Suite by the Mohican composer Brent Michael Davids, with its use of four “bird roars” (actually more twitter than roar), and apart from the various spiritual arrangements there were contrasting pieces from African American composers Nathaniel Dett (a European-style Ave Maria from the 1920s) and Rollo Dilworth
Aaron Jay Kernis’s whirlingly rhythmic I Cannot Dance, O Lord represented the more than 140 new pieces commissioned by the choir over its lifetime.
William Bolcom’s Knock-out Rag, specially commissioned for this tour, showcased piano accompanist Charles Kemper.
This wonderfully anachronistic squib could as easily have been titled Sore Knuckle Rag from all the knocking on wood it demands from the performer.