Review: Carrington group shines in debut

This review of Saturday night’s performance by the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers comes from Megan Helm, a Kansas City music educator who lives in Lawrence.

Take 24 professional voices from around the country, hand them some of the most challenging unaccompanied choral music from the last six centuries, give them one week to rehearse and three days with the conductor and then record a CD and film a documentary about the experience.

The Simon Carrington Chamber Singers did it all last week, culminating in their final performance Saturday night in Lawrence.

St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church hosted the group in its second of two concerts promoted as the Home Ground Tour. The ensemble revealed its newfound sound to the “standing room only” audience of hopeful listeners.

What they heard was a chamber choir from the Carrington era that had matured and seasoned to near perfection. Carrington, a founding member of the King’s Singers, was choir director at Kansas University from 1994 to 2001, and he’s retiring this year from Yale University. This group will be one of his retirement projects.

The “Simon Sound,” as choir member call it, is a youthful, pure and flexible sound built upon the English a capella choral tradition. This new group exemplifies this ideal but with vocal maturity and the life experience necessary to understand both the text and context of the music.

Some highlights included:

• Soprano and Lawrence native Stefanie Moore being featured in the all-vocal arrangement of Purcell’s “Music for a While.” Hearing the continuo through the humming voices instead of instruments was an adjustment and at times the balance favored the choir, but Moore gave a pristine performance.

• A French Baroque mini-oratorio by Marc-Antoine Charpentier called “Le Reniement de St. Pierre.” The challenge is the proper pronunciation of the French Latin, which the singers executed admirably.

• Representing German Leider, the Brahms songs “Rosmarin” and “Vergangen ist mir Gluck und Heil,” sounded smooth and polished. The women reveled in the light brightness of the texture, and the men supported them with a silky subtlety. This ensemble sang the German text with ease.

• Ian Coleman, composer and chair of the music department at William Jewell College, set the Langston Hughes poem “Dreams” to create “Hold Fast to Dreams” for the group. Using emphasized syllables, the piece starts with a hiss and pop then slowly builds to a Disney-esk theme. A sudden high note from a single soprano is followed by harmonic dissonances that ultimately resolve in a gorgeous final chord.

• The final piece of the night, “Grant Us Thy Piece” by local composer Geoff Wilcken, who also sang in the bass section, capped off the evening perfectly. The benediction was thoughtfully crafted and should be added to any choir directors’ repertoire.

Whether the Simon Carrington Chamber Singers will continue to delight audiences in the future is still to be seen. Compressing, infrequent rehearsals can often delay the full development of a fledgling group but, with seasoned singers who are as well prepared and professional as this ensemble, anything is possible.