ALBANY — The Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys of the Cathedral of All Saints performed some of the most treasured masterpieces of the choral liturgy Tuesday night before a large crowd.
Woodrow Bynum, the choir’s director since 2007, expertly prepared the 32-member choir, which is evenly split between men and boys between ages 7 and 14. The choir impressed with its fluid, seamless phrasing, wonderful entrances and releases, clean diction, balanced and mellow tones, superb dynamic control and especially its sustained quality over a wide range of challenges.
Standing in the transept area of the huge church, the choir sent its pure, ethereal voices floating up to the nave’s vast and high ceiling to bring images of angels on high. The first three works, sung a cappella, fit that description.
Franz Biebl wrote his “Ava Maria” in 1964 and made use of modern harmonies throughout the vocal parts, which the men sang in Latin. Their tender soft tones sung without vibrato and the well-arched phrases entranced.
In Pierre Villette’s “O Salutaris hostia,” also written in the 20th century and sung by the entire choir, the harmonies were chromatic with a French flair.
Off to the side
Bynum then took the choir to a side corridor, where St. John’s Chapel is, and told the crowd to imagine they were in the Sistine Chapel and were listening to the haunting refrains of Gregorio Allegri’s “Miserere mei, Deus” (1640).
Supposedly, the piece’s appoggiatura turns and harmonies were a secret until Mozart heard them and noted them down from memory. While the men intoned one phrase, the boys replied in the next with one boy very high up doing those turns. This sequence was repeated several times. It was very atmospheric and the young singer never missed.
Then Mark Dwyer at the organ set down huge, loud, dark chords to open the Kyrie from Louis Vierne’s “Messe Solennelle in C-sharp minor.” The threatening storm often passed from the organ to the choir to create dramatic and foreboding passages before the sun came out on the last tonal chord. Balances were fine and Vierne even allowed the choir to sing at tender soft levels before building to dark statements.
Two of Gabriel Faure’s works with a 17-piece orchestra, organ and baritone Paul Max Tipton were the final offerings: “Cantique de Jean Racine” (1865) and Requiem in D minor (1888). Both were gorgeous, lush, sometimes mystical but always lyrically romantic, and interesting to listen to with many choices of colors and textures.
The Requiem especially was not a dark mournful work but one of light and peace. Tipton sang his few solos in the Requiem with dark ruby tones that rang with passion. The choir was supple, the orchestra, whose part was integral and not just supportive, was solid. Bynum conducted with animation and care to make for satisfying results.