Sunday, November 24, 2019

Cantori New York - How To Go On - 11/17/19

Artistic Director and Conductor: Mark Shapiro 
Hermann Goetz: Seven Choral Songs Op. 21 
Henryk Górecki: Five Kurpian Songs 
Dale Trumbore: How to Go On 

While my retiree mom has a fairly open schedule, she still insists on taking numerous factors into account before committing to anything. Therefore, when plotting her trip to New York this year she carefully checked, among other things, my schedule, friends’ schedules, weather pattern, tourist season, airline ticket prices, the restaurant scene, as well as what was going on in musical and visual arts venues.
Eventually, the two major factors of her November visit came down to a slight dip in mass tourism and Cantori New York’s fall concert weekend, possibly not in that order, but it is admittedly a tough call. Regarding the latter, the promise of a program featuring essentially tonal works in German, Polish and English, and “nothing too weird”, did not hurt either.
Fact is, after getting to know them in New York for Mother’s Day back in the spring of 2013 and then hearing them again in Cassis and Marseille during their short but intense concert series celebrating the city’s status of European Capital of Culture a few months later, she was clearly way overdue for another concert of theirs. Fast-forward a few years, and on Sunday afternoon, we finally found ourselves in Chelsea’s Church of the Holy Apostles for their second and last packed performance of the weekend.

One of the major components of Cantori’s core mission is to put the spotlight on unfairly neglected past or existing composers, and that laudable objective was brilliantly fulfilled on Sunday afternoon by the inclusion of 19th-century German composer Hermann Goetz’s Seven Choral Songs at the inspired request of an enlightened member of the ensemble. And what a find it was! In the best Romantic fashion, the seven texts by various German poets on themes such as love, nature and faith were set to vibrantly melodic music for an all-around exquisite end result.
However, Cantori being Cantori, there still had to be a challenge to be conquered somewhere in the program, and last weekend it came in the form of Henryk Górecki’s Five Kurpian Songs, with their “inventive arrangements” of the Polish text. Additionally, while I assumed that those “traditional folk songs” would of the danceable kind, they turned out to cover a much wider and subtler range, from the beautifully atmospheric “II – Dark is the night, how dark” to the irresistibly vivacious “IV – I am a farm-hand from Torum,” all the way to the generously extended “V – The storm is coming, it will rain”, all effortlessly reaching a true spiritual dimension.
After intermission, we were all invited to ponder the sempiternal existential question: “How can we go on, knowing the end of the story?” during the New York premiere of American composer Dale Trumbore’s 2016 requiem How To Go On. And that’s just what we did throughout the eight starkly distinct but still fundamentally connected movements, which are based on poems by Barbara Crooker, Laura Foley and Amy Fleury, and relentlessly explore our relationship with death.
As one can imagine, the topic could have easily produced a total downer, and in fact the work predictably starts with the inevitable pain and suffering experienced with the death of a loved one, but it also progressively moves on towards understanding and acceptance that life goes on no matter what. Adroitly incorporating solo voices into the choir, the multi-layered score stands out for its intricate complexity and poignant lyricism, which soloists and ensemble superbly handled on Sunday afternoon. And if the ever-elusive answer was not found – the performance ending on a powerful yet unresolved note – the engrossing musical journey had been well-worth taking regardless.

Three down, one more to go.

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