Looking and sounding fit and confident, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir took to their home loft to show what they will export June 8-28 in a historic tour of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
What they're singing is an all-American program that embodies the spirit of our country - and Utah. It includes hymns and anthems, significant major works, Broadway show tunes and folk songs in a modern, showy, strong display. Indeed, the selection is extremely well designed and tailored to the needs of this tour - to offer people long repressed and deprived of Western music a breath of fresh air in songs of universal appeal.The choir began by belting out Norman Dello Joio's "Jubilant Song," set to Whitman's "Song of Joys," a big, expansive opener that should gather listeners everywhere.
Randall Thompson's "Alleluia," a hushed, reverent song building to a vibrant climax, makes an excellent companion piece. This, and later in the program Thompson's tuneful, dignified "Pueri Hebraeorum," add a certain Latin presence without resorting to the archaic.
Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms" is an inspired choice for several reasons. Bernstein is one of few American musicians that is well-known even in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union,and a memorial obeisance to his life and work is in order. The text, drawn from psalms of praise, thanksgiving, serenity and exaltation, is sung in Hebrew. And though commissioned for an English occasion, they have a definitely American thrust and energy to them, with their slight dissonances and irregular rhythms.
The choir sings these psalms beautifully, and though a boy soprano is usually used in the second movement, the counter tenor works well enough. The "Chichester Psalms" introduces an innovation for a choir tour - the use of a synthesizer. It is especially effective in the "instrumental" interlude and in the final horn calls.
Excerpts from Robert Cundick's "The Redeemer" give recognition to a significant Utah composer. They include the syncopated "And He Shall be Born of Mary," for women, "Because He Dwelleth in the Flesh" for men and the fugal, powerfully building "He is the Root and the Offspring of David."
An appropriate selection of hymns includes the lovely "O My Father," simply sung; a free-form anthem, perhaps a little overblown, built around "I Am a Child of God;" and Isaac Watts' rousing Protestant hymn, "Love So Amazing, So Divine," brilliantly arranged by Gilbert Martin.
What's more American than Americana? Show tunes, spirituals, jazz and folk tunes are what we do well, and the choir's second half is designed to export a little lighthearted fun, beginning with show tunes arranged by Arthur Harris - "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "Seventy-six Trombones."
The spiritual "Sinnuh, Please Don't Let Dis Harves' Pass," received idiomatically right nuances and feeling, and the Appalachian part song "Cindy" glowed in Mack Wilberg's clever, tuneful arrangement. It's a scene stealer, building up to hoedown fervor with clapping, and even a few whistles and catcalls. And what's this? "When the Saints Go Marching In," a Dixieland jam session, with a synthesizer, drums and licorice stick mixing it up with the singers.
In recognition of the bicentennial of his death, the choir will sing a Mozart selection on each concert; in this case, "Dixit Dominus," well enough handled, though better for a smaller group. Pianist Elizabeth Ballantyne was the fluent, technically adept soloist in a Mozart sonata.
After singing the Czech folk song from which "Waters Ripple and Flow" was arranged (typical of the songs they will sing in each language where they appear), the choir accepted their noblesse oblige, closing with the ever-popular (indeed, demanded) "Battle Hymn of the Republic."