Under director Brady R. Allred, the University of Utah Singers has grown immeasurably in terms of musicality, virtuosity and artistic expression. In a state rich in choral tradition, the U. Singers stand head and shoulders above most.

The nearly 50-member ensemble sings with a professionalism that is coupled with an obvious enthusiasm for its repertoire. This makes the group's concerts engaging and eminently entertaining.

Much of the credit for this transformation is due Allred, who is one of the finest choral conductors in the country. His inspired direction brings out the best in his singers.

That the University Singers is one of the premiere choirs — not only in the United States but in the world — was driven home last summer when it was awarded the grand prize at the Florilege Vocal de Tours International Choir Competition in France. As a result of that win, the group will participate in the European Grand Prix International Choir Competition next month in Tolosa, Spain.

To hone their competition program and refine their presentation, the singers are embarking today on a two-week tour of France prior to the competition.

Tuesday the choir held a bon voyage concert in Libby Gardner Concert Hall, which gave the large audience in attendance a sampling of what French and Spanish audiences will be hearing.

The 2 1/2-hour concert underscored once again that the University Singers belong among the elite international choirs. Enthralled listeners were regaled with a program that spotlighted several soloists and displayed the immense collective talent in a wide-ranging collection of pieces spanning several centuries and crossing many musical borders.

The musical versatility of the choir members is impressive. They move effortlessly from one stylistic period to another, from European sacred to gospel to American folk songs, and from the serious to the humorous.

Among the latter were three songs that left the audience roaring with laughter. The singers cut loose on the American songs, "The Sheepherder's Lament" and Irving Berlin's "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun" (while wearing cowboy hats), and also (minus the hats) on John David Earnest's set of variations on "Clementine."

On the other end of the spectrum, the choir was stunning on Javier Busto's touching "Ave Maria" and Gyorgy Orban's forceful "Daemon Irrepit Callidus."

The singers were particularly dazzling in Moses Hogan's "I Am His Child" and Keith Hampton's "My God Is an Awesome God."

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