The golden tones of the Phoenix Chorale and the Kansas City Chorale filled the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Sunday afternoon. It was the debut for both groups, who were making their first tour of the Northeast.
Under the skillful and inspired direction of conductor Charles Bruffy, the 23 men and 27 women sang with an impressive cohesiveness and such extraordinary control that every tone was clear and defined. The results often sounded like mellifluous organ chords.
The Phoenix Chorale (founded in 1958) and the Kansas City Chorale (founded in 1982) are well known in chorale circles and won the 2007 Grammy Award for one of the works on Sunday’s program: Alexandre Grechaninov’s “Passion Week” (1912). Bruffy has been the artistic director for both for several years and has done a fabulous job.
Because of their expertise in singing music of earlier eras, they are used to plucking notes out of thin air, using little vibrato to create an ethereal purity, singing long sustained lines that require exceptional breath control and working in close four-part harmony. The program capitalized on these skills.
Jaakka Mantyjarvi’s “Canticum Calamitis Maritimae” (1997), which was inspired by the horrendous sinking in 1994 of a luxury ferry in the Baltic Sea with a loss of 852 people, caught the desperate loneliness, terror and despair of those aboard and those who searched for them.
To make it authentic, a recording of the actual Mayday call was played. A lone soprano stood in the balcony chanting to the chorale’s whisperings and modal lines. It was very haunting.
Four Irish traditional songs livened things up. One featured the women and one, the men. These were “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye,” “P is for Paddy,” “Dulaman,” and “The Wild Song.” Everyone sang the mostly strophic songs with excellent diction, liquid phrasing and light voices.
Bruffy stood off to the side basking in their tones and later told the crowd that he had been “inhaling their sound.” Although he seemed relaxed, the results showed that not a nuance or pitch gets by his ears.
The Grechaninov, which was sung in Russian, was serenely beautiful. Some lines were like placid still waters and others had a sussuration like waves coming to shore.
The final work of Frank Martin’s “Messe pour double choeur,” was more complicated but done with equal skill and created an atmosphere of adoration.