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Chalice Consort: Grant Them Rest

November 6, 2011

Chalice Consort

Chalice ConsortChalice Consort observed the week of All Saints Day by singing a Requiem at the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi, Sunday in San Francisco. Musical Director Davitt Moroney invited the audience to think, as the Requiem unfolded, about the lives of people they knew who have died. The Requiem was written in 1590 by Eustache Du Caurroy, described in a program note as the greatest French composer of the late Renaissance.

Added to the nine parts of the Requiem were four motets by Du Caurroy, all settings of church texts, but providing stylistic variety to the concert. The program began with a motet setting of Ave Maria, featuring the high voices, and continued with a motet on Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come, holy spirit), sung by all in double-choir formation, sections alternating and coming together.

Chalice specializes in introducing neglected works by neglected composers, and has supported the publication of scores in modern notation to contribute to an expansion of the early choral repertoire. The singers are capable of eliminating vibrato from their voices without any compromise of tonal strength or quality. Their sound is good for late Renaissance music, with its extensive use of counterpoint. Each part comes through clearly — even in the Shrine’s reverberant acoustic — and unisons are electric.

Chalice specializes in introducing neglected works by neglected composers.

The Requiem’s opening Introit began with a choral unison. This device was used throughout the Requiem: unison on the first word or phrase, continuing on a solo voice, joined gradually by others, finally blossoming into full harmony. It was especially effective in the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. The Absolution, near the end, started with the unison singing of “Libera me, Domine” (Deliver me, Lord). The men began “Dies illa, dies irae” (Day of terror, day of anger), and the entire movement built upward from the low voices, until the sopranos went high, describing the Day of Judgment. The final “Pie Jesu” (Kind Lord Jesus, give them rest) was beautifully scored and beautifully sung, starting in middle register, adding the low voices and then the highest voices.

Watchmen at the Ramparts?

One motet was interpolated into the Requiem, before the Absolution: a setting of several verses from the Song of Solomon — “My soul melted when he spoke ... I could not find him ... The watchmen beat me up and took away my veil ... If you find him tell him I languish with love.” If you subscribe to the notion that the Song of Solomon is an allegory about the relationship between the soul and God, it’s disturbing enough. But if you don’t, it’s downright scary. Who are these watchmen, anyway? Morality enforcers who police the populace, like those in certain unfortunate countries today? Whatever the case, these verses provided a nice contrast to the Requiem music, being more up-tempo and using a wider range of voices. There were lots of high notes, and Chalice’s brilliant high sopranos made the most of them.

Each part comes through clearly ... and unisons are electric.

The program ended with a triumphant motet celebrating the Resurrection, Victimae Paschali laudes (Praise to the Paschal victim). The range of voices from low to high was wide, and groupings within the chorus made for welcome changes in sonic texture. A small but enthusiastic audience expressed at length its admiration for Chalice Consort, Davitt Moroney, and Eustache Du Caurroy.

Anna Carol Dudley is a singer, teacher, UC Berkeley faculty emerita, San Francisco State University lecturer emerita, and director emerita of the San Francisco Early Music Society's Baroque Music Workshop.