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Chanticleer Demonstrates Vocal Charm and Versatility

September 30, 1996|DANIEL CARIAGA

As the years go by, the dangers to successful performing groups are many. At the beginning of its 18th year, however, Chanticleer, the male vocal ensemble from San Francisco, seems to be avoiding most musical and career pitfalls.

Returning to Marsee Auditorium at the South Bay Center for the Arts, and greeted by a large crowd in the 2,054-seat hall, Chanticleer Friday night reiterated its remembered virtues and charms. The 12 men of the group still specialize in versatility, but their expertise in music from sacred pieces of the early Renaissance to pop songs of the late 20th century is not shallow.

Chanticleer sings it all well, and convincingly.

The unconducted ensemble's first half mixed spirituality and secularity, illuminating especially pieces by Brumel, Weelkes and Ramsey, and introducing us to a Russian composer, Vasily Titov (1650-1715), whose "The Angel Cried Out" proved highly effective.

Then, a group of recent compositions featured impressive writing by William Hawley, Chen Yi, Bernard Rands and Augusta Read Thomas.

The touring ensemble's performance of a work by Poulenc, the "Quatre petite prieres de Saint Francois d'Assise," became particularly touching. This text-connected, dynamically subtle and thoroughly polished work makes religious feeling manifest. Music can convert the heathen.

No lowering of standards occurred in the well-paced second half, which began with a brand-new selection of six folk-song arrangements (to appear on a new CD to be released in the spring). To close the evening, the group sang spirituals and pop items from memory, enthusiastically. In response to loud approbation, the 12 singers then offered a single encore in a lively performance of "Straight Street."

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