Rain, sleet, snow and hail - hardly divine weather for April, no matter how badly we needed it. But within Symphony Hall Thursday, amid the warmth generated by an audience of proud families and friends, the Salt Lake Children's Choir sang like angels.
At least angelic is the word I would use could I have only one. Were I permitted another, it would be professional. Which is to say there were no speeches, no undue fuss filing on and off stage and very few pitches sounded in advance - and that as unobtrusively as possible.Which meant the joyousness of Palestrina's "Osanna in Excelcis," which opened the evening, welled up almost out of nowhere, as though it were being sounded by dozens of tiny bells, followed by Lotti's hauntingly distant "Miserere," its unaccompanied strains likewise creating a cathedral-like ambiance.
For the rest, this attractively sequenced program moved to a pair of English madrigals, then to art songs of Schumann, Brahms, Grieg, Bizet and Schubert, three pieces by the group's director, Ralph Woodward Jr., a group of folk songs (mostly sung in their original languages) and finally music of Rachmaninoff, Wolf and Humperdinck - the Evening Prayer from "Hansel and Gretel," also angelic.
With few exceptions, each displayed the same taste, clarity and judicious balances that marked the liturgical selections. And although one would not expect from singers aged 8 to 14 the expressiveness and maturity German Lieder often require, that was made up for by the freshness and lift they brought to things like the open-air exuberance of Schumann's "Ins Freie" and Wolf's "Er ist's" (from the Moerike Lieder).
By the same token, "Das Wandern" (from Schubert's "Die schoene Muellerin") may have been a little light in spots, courtesy of the cadet choir. But its youthful charm and three brave soloists reminded us that the composer himself was once a member of a children's choir. As did the bright antiphony of Purcell's "Sound the Trumpet"' (from "Come Ye Sons of Art"), its trilling effects beautifully enunciated.
At the same time this was not exclusively a choral concert, featuring as it did the solo artistry of pianist Grant Johannesen. To my way of thinking that was most compellingly on view in his pre-intermission account of Schumann's "Faschingschwank aus Wien" ("Carnival Jest from Vienna"), a remarkably well-integrated statement that for all its impulse - especially in the outer movements - retained a natural grace and lyricism.
Likewise his post-intermission performance of Chopin's F minor Ballade. Again, he may not be the flashiest technician around, but his understated sense of architecture and knowing just when to push ahead and/or pull back on a phrase served the music well, helping it build to an impressive climax. As had his shapely accompaniments in two of the Schumann and Brahms Lieder. (Elsewhere Diane Bastian held down the keyboard post.)
After which we were treated, again courtesy of Johannesen, to the subdued effulgence of Rachmaninoff's "In the Silent Night," as idiomatically transcribed by Earl Wild. Which eased us just as naturally into the choir's return in the same composer's "Floods of Spring," in which the pianist turned in a properly if a bit overwhelmingly torrential accompaniment.
The result was that in places he actually drowned out the kids. But in view of the song's title, not to mention the spring flood outside, maybe that was the idea.