Any opportunity to hear the young choristers and the adult choir of the Cathedral of the Madeleine is welcome. Both choirs are wonderful ensembles. Their singing is first rate and radiates a professional sheen. In a state that prides itself on the quality and abundance of its choral groups, the cathedral choirs fit right in and bring something special to the art of choral singing.
Sunday evening the cathedral presented its annual Founders Day concert with music by Francis Poulenc, Olivier Messiaen and J.S. Bach.
The program opened with Poulenc's glorious Mass in G Major for a cappella chorus.
Poulenc is one of the more interesting figures in 20th century music. Much of his music is irreverent and filled with sarcasm and biting wit, but nevertheless wonderfully sophisticated. Yet Poulenc also had a religious bent and wrote some of the most touching liturgical works to come out of that century.
The Mass in G Major is an eloquent example of his sacred music, and quite possibly his crowning achievement in the genre. It's a beautifully expressive and poignant, but also very dramatic, setting of the text. In its impact, the work evokes the spirit of an earlier era, specifically that of the heartfelt settings of the mass found in the late Middle Ages. As with medieval music, Poulenc's mass is marvelous for its outwardly simple style and its immediacy. It appeals to the listener directly and with a straightforwardness that is unassuming and belies the complexity of its structure. It's a very lucid and compelling work that captivates with its eloquent expressiveness.
Gregory A. Glenn, who conducted the concert, captured the vibrancy of the music, as well as its spirituality, convincingly. He elicited a stunningly nuanced and wonderfully articulated and executed performance from his choirs. They in turn sang superbly and brought out the expressiveness of the music magnificently. And young soprano Jaclyn Tani, who was heard in the Agnus Dei, sang her part with crystalline clarity and sweet lyricism.
This year marks the centennial of Messiaen's birth, and the cathedral celebrated the occasion by performing his "Trois petites Liturgies de la Presence Divine." The choristers were joined by an orchestra of local musicians, including members of the Utah Symphony, cathedral organist Douglas O'Neill on piano, and guest artist Mary Chun on the Ondes Martenot.
Messiaen's spirituality takes on almost mystic proportions in many of his sacred works, including the "Trois petites Liturgies." And Glenn captured the otherworldliness of the work wonderfully. He brought out the huge palette of expressions the music calls for, and the choristers and orchestra gave a poignant, dramatic and compelling performance. It was poetic in its eloquence.
The young choristers impressed with their vibrant singing. The score is demanding, and they sang it convincingly, capturing all the nuances, and, in the middle movement of this three-movement work, the exuberance and sheer joy Messiaen expresses.The evening concluded with a delightful account of Bach's Cantata No. 192, "Nun danket alle Gott." The reading was fluid, with seamless phrases and rich expressiveness. Soloists Laurel James, soprano, and Tyler Oliphant, baritone, sang the duet "Der ewig reiche Gott" with lyrical beauty.
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