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[whitespace] Cantiamo! Cabrillo
Cheryl's Angels: The 38 voices of Cantiamo! Cabrillo are a study in excellence under the direction of Cheryl Anderson.

Exuberance

After a worthy try at Martin's meaty 'Messe,' Cantiamo! Cabrillo delivered its seasonal concert with great confidence

By Scott MacClelland

EVERYBODY KNOWS that cheese with holes, alpine ski resorts and cuckoo clocks are merely a front for what the Swiss do best: international finance. Indeed, finance has made Switzerland a similarly powerful--if similarly obscure--force in music. Thanks to his connection to the LaRoche pharmaceutical giant, conductor Paul Sacher (1906-99) was able to use his vast wealth to create the Basel Chamber Orchestra, Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and Musikacademie der Stadt Basel, and to commission and/or premiere masterpieces by Béla Bartók, Paul Hindemith, Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Benjamin Britten, Michael Tippett, Edgar Varese and Swiss composers Arthur Honegger and Frank Martin.

Fast-forward to now. Cheryl Anderson's Cantiamo! Cabrillo just sang the local premiere of Martin's Messe, a 1922 setting for unaccompanied chorus. Martin's aesthetic falls between Honegger and Hindemith, a severely objective respect for classical forms and procedures that relies on bracing harmonic twists and unexpected rhythms for its originality.

Regrettably, the half-hour work, as heard at Carmel's Church of the Wayfarer, found its executants at their most tentative and irresolute in an otherwise uplifting holiday concert. (The program was also performed at Watsonville's St. Patrick's Church and at Holy Cross in Santa Cruz.)

Like Stravinsky and Ravel, Martin is nothing if not a precisionist. Exactitude is his middle name. As such, his music makes no allowance for gush or sentiment, loose ensemble or intonation--or for choral voices that stand out with unseemly presence and/or excessive vibrato.

One could certainly respect the effort made on behalf of a difficult challenge by Anderson's 38-voice ensemble, but that effort fell short of bringing the composer's excellent design into sharp focus, and Martin was the loser. (I hope Anderson takes this as encouragement to refine and resubmit this work for future public scrutiny.)

With more familiar and less intimidating fare, the chorus easily regained its confidence. The evening's second half was just what Santa ordered, an exuberant sampler of Christmas nuggets prefaced by Alan Hovhaness' Alleluia, a fugue animated by a pastoral rhythm, with Michael McGushin at the piano.

This piece gave way to seasonal motets by late-Renaissance Spaniards Victoria and Guerrero, and robustly four-square part songs by William Billings of Revolutionary-era New England.

Popular arrangements of familiar carols continued the high spirits through Gruber's "Silent Night," whose verses were sung in three languages. "Lullay, My Liking," featured solos by four choristers. Leontovich's "Carol of the Bells" sizzled with excitement. John Peed's "Livin' in the Land of Mercy" swung with spiritual joy.

The Vaughan Williams arrangement of the traditional wassail included amusing verses composed by members of the chorus. The program ended with The Shepherd's Farewell from L'Enfance du Christ by Berlioz. Sustained applause twice provoked "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

Anderson has developed an enviable reputation. She is able to produce large-scale performances with the anyone-can-enroll Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus and to screen voices for such smaller ensembles as Cantiamo! Cabrillo. This gives her potential access to virtually the complete choral literature.

The Martin mass has never been sung before in this region and, notwithstanding its less than entirely successful production, only scratches the surface of an otherwise hidden corpus of great music (including works by all the composers awarded commissions by Sacher). One can only hope that Anderson's resources will allow her to continue bringing such works into the light and the time and talent to vouchsafe their full impact.

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From the December 20-27, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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