Well, sports fans, surely you’ve heard that Cornell made it to the so-so Sweet 16 for the first time ever? This is a really big deal that True Blue locals, resting on a bench full of laurels, may be inclined to underrate. They’ll do so at their potential peril. The advance team appeared in Raleigh on Monday evening, surely intent on casing the Triangle. And the ladies of the Cornell University Chorus are armed to the teeth, too – with talent and artistic ability. Them Dookies better be on their guard!
Seriously, the choir was here as part of a six-concert Southern tour, and in Meredith’s Jones Chapel they joined forces with the Meredith Chorale for a splendid, short program of exceedingly bracing, mostly new works. The 38 visitors are directed by Scott Tucker and accompanied by pianist John Rowehl. Meredith’s singers, 23 strong, are directed by Music Department Chair Fran Page and accompanied by Kent Lyman.
The host ensemble got things underway with five impressive selections spanning a huge swath of musical real estate – Bach’s “Suscepit Israel,” a trio for three voices from Magnificat; Mendelssohn’s “Laudate pueri,” also for three voices; two of Stravinsky’s Russian Folk Songs, sung in Russian (and which were over before most members of the audience knew what had hit them); and Reginald Unterseher’s “62 Insults from Shakespeare,” sort of a high-falutin’ Capulets v. McCoys thing. The singing was rich and full-bodied and impressively mature, and Page tended admirably to balance and dynamics.
The guests then came forward, processing to “On Suuri Sun Rantas Autius” by Soumalainen Kansansävelma – a title and name I’ve copied out with care because this was one of the most impressive curtain-raisers for chorus I’ve heard in many a year. There followed selections from the ensemble’s extensive repertoire, on this occasion including Rachmaninoff’s “The Angel” (from Six Choral Songs for Treble Voices), sung in idiomatic-sounding Russian, “Sheep in Fog,” a grim but stirring a cappella work by Julia Adolphe, a member of the choir, and Arne Mellnäs’ remarkable “Aglepta” – remarkable in terms of the vocal technique it demands and in terms, too, of its impact on the audience.
The program continued with several of Libby Larsen’s new “Spells” (or incantations), from A Book of Spells – note, please, all the new music given by this group! A hauntingly beautiful Norwegian folk song arranged by Jens Bugge Olse led to the far more familiar “Ca’ the Yowes,” arr. Jameson Marvin. A selection by a lively and highly animated sub-group of the choir that calls itself “After 8” followed, during which the director got to take a short break. For reasons unclear to this disgruntled Tar Heel fan we were then obliged to hear Cornell’s “Alma Mater,” one of the oldest in the United States – but as it turned out, this was more than o.k., for it’s the same tune (“Annie Lisle,” 1857) as UNC’s “Hark the Sound….”
Meredith’s Chorale then joined the women of Cornell as Tucker directed Håkan Olsson’s “Da Pacem Domini” and a lovely reading of “Banks of Doon” as set by Donna Gartman Schultz and here accompanied by Lyman and Meredith violinist Emily McLawhorn. Page then wrapped up the proceedings by leading a stirring rendition of “Go Down, Moses” that brought the students, host families, and Cornell alums to their feet. A good time was had by all.
Cornell plays Kentucky Thursday night, and Duke plays Purdue on Friday. UNC didn't even make the "Dance" this year. I guess we’d better find some more concerts to console ourselves.