The local choral group Gloriana takes its name from Benjamin Britten's opera "Gloriana." So hearing the group perform an all Britten concert is a little like, well, going into a place called "House of Scallops" and ordering the specialty of the house.
You know you're going to get something good.Benjamin Britten - like the chorus Gloriana itself - is challenging, provocative and often cerebral. The story is told that composer Charles Ives once stood as the audience booed one of his own compostions and shouted "Use your ears like a man!"
Britten might have shouted "Use your heart like an artist!"
Benjamin Britten never met an interval or chord he didn't like. But he put his inventiveness to the service of the text, which is why his music survives. And Saturday night at the St. Mark's Cathedral, Gloriana sounded some inversions, suspensions and syncopation that many people may never hear in a lifetime.
Singing from the loft at the back of the hall, the chorus opened with "Rejoice in the Lamb" and "Festival Te Deum" - showing impressive range and suppleness. Gloriana is a singing group that can move from jingling, light-hearted sounds into the heft of cathedral bells without a hitch. Conductor Deuane Kuenzi is responsible there. Rather than fashioning a legion of heavenly hosts, he has chosen to create a lean, serene corps of 25 singers - complete with specialists - who can literally startle an audience with their shifts in dynamics, rhythm and color. They move on cue as well as any singing group in the state. A flippant soul might call them Kuenzi's Commandos.
Carl Anderson accompanied the group on the organ, then took over himself for three solos: "Divnum Mysterium" by John Cook (with the recognizable tune to "Of the Father's Love Begotten"), Vaughan Williams' "Rhosymedre" and "Toccata in Seven" by John Rutter. His ability to display passion through dynamics mirrored the talent in the chorus.
After intermission, Gloriana moved to the front of the hall to perform the final set a cappella. The "Hymn to Cecilia" - with its quirky text ("I shall never be different. Love me. Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions to all musicians, appear and inspire, translated daughter. . .") gave way to six of Britten's famous "Choral Dances" from the opera "Gloriana."
A sustained ovation led the chorus into an encore. They chose "Simple Gifts" ("Tis a gift to be simple. . .").
After an hour of digesting the impressionistic progressions of Britten, the simple folk song went down sweet and smooth.
Sometimes - even after dining on the world's most wonderful scallops - there's nothing quite like a tasty slice of pie.