March 16, 1999
A Review by Pat and Ernie Pinson
The Dutch are back! For the second time this season, a group of Low Country musicians captivated the Mobile Chamber Music audience. This time an a cappella Vocal Ensemble known as QUINK presented a program of 20th century English music in USA's fine Laidlaw recital hall. Composed by Ralph Vaughn Williams, the music evolved effortlessly with a floating quality absolutely free of pushing. The voices interwove -- all equal in the parts and all equal in quality of tone. The music took on a life of its own apart from the grid structure of measures and beats, and breathed and sighed as if one voice were singing. In the song "Rest," the phrase endings seemed calculated to match the natural acoustical dying away of sound which made one of the most magical moments of performance that we have heard in a very long time.
The two sets of pieces for chorus by Benjamin Britten were more chromatic and at times atonal. Not music for amateurs! Written for a chorus, the music took on new shades when sung by one person to a part. And the intonation was flawless. The last work for chorus that Britten wrote, Sacred and Profane (1975) incorporates bold harmonic sequences and demands strong vocal technique. The dissonances were gritty and the unisons were pristine. Vocal gymnastics of birdcalls or glissandos never obscured the choral sound. Sometimes echoes were built into the texture, and other times a soprano melody floated over a seamless synchronous sound. The final piece of this series, A Death, was more orchestral than vocal. They bounce off one another and bellow, twinkle, tinkle, slur, echo as if a group of different animals were squawking, barking, chirping and quacking in this danse macabre. This music is not a place for the insecure singer, and QUINK handled it with ease.
Midway through the second half, the lighter works of M. Seiber were a welcome relief. This move to central European Yugoslav Folksongs harked back to brighter days in this war- torn country. This set of folksongs was full of the bittersweet major-minor shifts common to that part of Europe, and was an interesting complement to the madrigal-like setting of the English folksongs which began the program. Seiber was actually Hungarian by birth but lived and taught in England most of his life (d. 1960). The following Three Nonsense Songs on limericks of Edward Lear were matched by facial expressions and comic sounds by the performers.
There was an encore group of Broadway show tunes, however, which were lighter and more familiar. The group moved out in front of their music stands -- Remember the Swingle Singers with all the nonsense syllables? Well, Besame Mucho was filled with trills, plops, docks, and rolls. In If Ever I Would Leave You they used close harmony, and My Romance was pure silk with no seams. The last two were choreographed and orchestrated(!) Ain't Misbehavin' was complete with Fats Domino trumpet-voice, and the old victrola German song Don't Say Goodby was a poor quality, very old recording replete with scratches and a stuck needle all in mimicked fun. Wow! What an evening of vocal virtuosity! There are several CDs by this group. Go out and buy one.