Despite the downpour the Taylorsville High auditorium was nearly full Saturday for a concert by the Salt Lake Symphonic Choir. Those who braved the weather were rewarded with one of the most professionally presented choral programs it has been my privilege to encounter.
To begin with, for all the extraneous noise in the audience (including cryin babies), there was none on-stage. Selections were clearly listed in the printed program and that was it. No explanation that Michael Haydn was Franz Joseph's younger brother. No reflections on how much "You'll Never Walk Alone" has come to mean to us since "Carousel." They simply came out and sang.
Even the opening number, Bach's "Mein Jesu was fuer Seelenweh" (here in English), was launched into without the audible setting of pitches, in an a cappella rendering of clarity and warmth. In fact there wasn't a peep out of the piano until the seventh item of the program, Randall Thopson's "The Last Words of David," which ironically missed much of the power inherent in the accompaniment. Otherwise its stark majesty was conveyed most affectingly, with superb control of dynamics and a deft highlighting of inner voices (e.g., the sustained dissonance in the tenors toward the end).
In between the group and its director, George Welch, brought the same hair-trigger shadings to Gretchaninoff's "Our Father" ("Holy, Holy, Holy"), its layered surge harking back to the wellsprings of Russian choral tradition; the younger Haydn's "Tenebrae factae sunt," here all dignity and nuance; together with devotional pieces from the likes of Gounod, Lewis and Pablo Casals (the "O vos ommes," with its similar echoes of antiquity).
Whatever the subject, they responded with singing of presence and depth, coupled with a homogeneity of sound both within and among sections that must turn other choral directors green with envy. Consider the faultless blending of voices in Norman Luboff's arrangement of "Steal Away,"in which even expanding volume of the two show tunes on the program, "Tonight" and "You'll Never Walk alone."
If I found the second half less riveting, it may have had something to do with the program, a more pop-oriented survey that ran the gamut from Carl Nygard's "Without Love" (its text, believe it or not, derived from First Corinthians) to Barry Manilow. Or were diction and ensemble themselves down just a bit following intermission?
At the same time the group found room for two Samuel Barber selections, "Sure on this Shining Night" and "The Coolin'," the third of his "Reincarnations" and, apart from being a bit fast, so beautifully managed I found muyself wishing they'd done all three.
Loraine M. Wood was the soprano soloist in the Russian folk song "Yonder, Yonder." David Begunin in the offical closing number, "So Many Voices Sing America's Song." But for most I suspect the end did not come until the second encore, you-know-who's arrangement of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." It may not gave had the volume of that other local choir's rendition, but it had easily as much spirit and polish. And a level of discipline any chorus would do well to emulate.