Dr. Nathan Leaf led a large group of students in the NC State University Fall Choral Collage on Friday evening, presenting a varied program exploring the music of several cultures with works from a span of five centuries. Assisted by collaborating pianist Ariadna Nacienceno, the State Chorale, Vox Accalia, and Singing Statesmen performed roughly an hour and a half of music in English, German, and Latin, featuring a chamber orchestra, several very talented soloists, and the occasional percussion instrument to highlight the groups' enthusiasm.
Despite the basketball exhibition going on down the road and the outrageous conditions of parking and traffic outside, the State Chorale in the gorgeous Talley Student Union's Stewart Theatre immediately began the concert with a warm, delightful J.S. Bach work, "Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf," BWV 226, with an orchestra of ten players that blended into the sound of a quite balanced Chorale. This group, made up of a large number of both women and men, performed in joyful four-part harmonies with clear German diction and pronunciation. Their tempos were flexible and dynamic, while their blend remained perfect during a nicely balanced fugue movement. The small orchestra lent strength to the ensemble but generally blended their sound right into the vocalists'.
After a brief stage reset, the all-female Vox Accalia took the stage, upholding the standard of great balance and blend with G.F. Handel's "Hallelujah, Amen," which began in unison and then split into traditional triad harmony with many pretty suspensions. The Gustav Holst movement that followed, "Summer" from Two Eastern Pictures, was beautiful and ethereal, but the minor-keyed humming in unison at the beginning did not blend together nearly as well, as it is hard to control mouth shape when the mouth is closed. The group sounded much better once they got to the words and, the four-part women's harmony was tight and clean. "Radiant Sister of the Day" followed, a fun, multi-meter piece by David Brunner, in which the diction was not as clear, but the women sang with more enthusiasm. "Lineage," Andrea Ramsey's work based on a poem of Margaret Walker, featured great harmonies, well-performed slides, and deft tempo changes. Ramsey is a living female composer, and Vox Accalia strives to feature such composers at least once every performance. Along with bongos, congas, and a cabasa, they brought Walker's strong words to life. Finally was the ever-popular gospel spiritual "Go Where I Send Thee," arranged by Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory, during which the women's incredible enthusiasm shone through, at the cost of diction but with great modulations.
The Singing Statesmen took the stage next, beginning with a traditional rendition of Jacob Arcadelt's "Ave Maria," an unaccompanied work showcasing the men's beautiful balance and tone. The blend throughout their section of the performance was great – except for the occasional stray tenor or baritone that was channeling his inner soloist. David Childs' "Weep No More" was next, featuring more movement and interweaving harmony parts, accompanied by a delicate solo piano that imitated the sound of rolling waves and was a delightful change of pace. Soloists Ricky Critchfield and Johnny Gillings lent their powerful and supple voices to the spiritual "Yonder Come Day," a traditional melody from Georgia arranged by Paul John Rudoi. The wonderful descant and immense energy offset the loss of precision. This was followed by a delicate rendition of "Shenandoah" arranged by Kevin Memley. The Statesmen's final number, Stephen Foster's "O Susannah," arranged in a spritely manner by Jonathan Crutchfield, seemed to be the men's favorite work. With a brief jamboree in the middle, a couple of meter changes, and great diction, it added up to an exuberant, incredibly cheesy finale to the men's portion of the concert.
The last portion of the program brought back the State Chorale, who heralded their arrival with a spectacular tambourine accident that the students played off good-naturedly. Leaf's own composition was a programmatic setting of a Dorothy Walters poem. "Everything In" was quite a journey, an amalgam of styles and harmonic directions that had a wide vocal range and alternated between cleverly placed silences and beautifully executed loud and dissonant chords. A nostalgic, pastoral Z. Randall Stroope work called "The Pasture" followed, juxtaposing the graceful women's and powerful men's parts. The final work of the night was another spiritual, "Sit Down Servant," arranged by Stacey V. Gibbs, closing the concert. The Chorale's energy and passion for singing was lovely to see in a university setting of students singing for the pleasure of it. NCSU doesn't have a music major, but offers two minors and over fifty courses in music study for students who love music and want to maintain its importance in their lives.