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From the ECU School of Music website: ECU Chamber Singers, Dr. James Franklin, conductor and SATB ensemble; the major touring and performing ensemble at ECU, primarily comprised of music majors. All students – freshmen, transfer, graduate, etc.– are encouraged to audition for the Chamber Singers. Rehearses MTWTHF 1:00-1:50.
With such a serious rehearsal schedule and such a competent director, beautiful music can be made – that is what was heard in the lofty space of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Greenville, as the Chamber Singers celebrated an album release in tandem with their fall concert. The new album, entitled Appear and Inspire can be streamed or purchased on all major platforms.
The concert's program consisted of nine short pieces from the choral repertoire: "Land of Our Birth" from A Song of Thanksgiving by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi's Pulchra es, Johannes Brahms' "Geistliches Lied," Op. 30, Kyrie and "Gloria" from Missa Brevis in F, K.192 by W.A. Mozart, "She's Like The Swallow" and "Silence and Music" by Vaughan Williams, "Otche Nash" from Drei geistliche Gesänge by Alfred Schnittke, and Richard Wagner's "Pilgrim's Chorus" from Tannhäuser.
The delicious tone quality of these talented and well-rehearsed young people was obvious from beginning to end. Their names were all listed in the program, along with their hometowns and degree choices. There was a partial libretto.
"Land of Our Birth" was, as intended by the composer, heart-wrenchingly emotional. The ensemble's singing here, as throughout the evening, was extremely precise. In Pulchra es, the singers were smooth, in tune, soaring, and beautiful.
In the Mozart Kyrie, Zyion Stephens, soprano, was perfect for the part; Faith Walker, alto, had a lovely, but not particularly strong voice. In the Gloria, the quartet featured Sarah Summers, soprano; Erica Timmerman, alto; Ruben Ortega, tenor; and Evan Martschenko, bass. These singers were most impressive and worked well with the very noble full choir. It was great to hear this wonderful singing after an eighteen-month-long dry spell.
"She's Like the Swallow" is an iconic, but perfectly simple folk song, made complex and beautiful by Vaughan Williams. Summers executed her solo part with much grace. "Silence and Music" is a setting of a poem by Ursula Wood, who later became Vaughan Williams' second wife. The choir's diction was excellent, and the words were clear even from a rather withdrawn seat near the opposite end of the church. Wagner's "Pilgrims' Chorus," something of a warhorse, was a glorious conclusion to an evening of strong and precise singing.
It would have been a facile trick to write this review as of a talking head presentation with musical interludes, so fond does conductor Franklin seem of the hand-held microphone. Every piece (except "Silence and Music") was preceded by a lot of chat. Franklin's comments covered a wide range of topics, including off-the-cuff remarks about the light board operator, leading the audience in singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" to make sure everyone understood what a round was, mention of the new Adele album released on cassette tape, and several attempts to assure the audience of just how good the concert was. Of this chat, the less said the better; in the future it would be best to let good music and strong singing be sufficient for the concert. David Arcus accompanied one piece beautifully on the Fisk organ; Eric Stellrecht had two accompaniments on piano, both his usual excellence.
The Chamber Singers, despite constant singer turnover, is a consistent strong star in the ECU musical firmament through Franklin's excellent direction. This was a full house event, much appreciated by the audience, who offered a standing ovation.