Tennessee Chamber Chorus Performance Left Audience Thrilled With The Warmth Of The Season

Friday, December 20, 2013 - by Dan Gawthorp

Tuesday evening's performance by the Tennessee Chamber Chorus in the warm and clear acoustics of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Signal Mountain was a deeply satisfying experience and left its audience filled with the joy and warmth of the season. Masterfully programmed by artistic director and conductor Cameron LaBarr, the perfectly balanced collection of new and delightful selections with warmly familiar music turned from festive and joyous to haunting and evocative, and then back again, several times during the evening. There are few places in the country where a similarly impressive collection of professional voices could be assembled in an ensemble with such polish and refinement or, when appropriate, such power and intensity. Chattanooga is fortunate, indeed, to be able to hear this group twice annually.


As a suitable invocation to what followed, tenor soloist Andrew Crane and countertenor David Stanley began the evening with the hymn Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland presented as an achingly beautiful and utterly simple unaccompanied duet. This led directly to the full chorus singing a powerful arrangement of the 16th century Personent Hodie. Two additional pieces from the same period served to effectively highlight the evening's world premiere performance of a piece inspired by early music, Laudemus Cum Armonia by Tennessee composer John Wykoff. From the tonal portion of Wykoff's output, the new piece was vivid, intense and engaging. It was given a suitably focused and bright-edged performance by TCC.


There is a certain class of purist who believes that Benjamin Britten's iconic work A Ceremony of Carols is compromised when performed by any ensemble other than the quintessentially English boy choir. That is the sound which many of us have in our ears when we think of this piece, and it is hard to beat. However, as we heard Tuesday evening, there are some real advantages to the greater lung capacity, more mature sonorities and years of life experience which adult singers can bring to this work. The stunning  performance by the treble singers of the TCC was revelatory and offered what was, in some ways, a whole new piece.


Adult singers have the luxury of sustaining phrases beyond the point where a boy would have exhausted his breath. Similarly, adults can create a range of dynamics that boys simply cannot. They also have the understanding needed to respond meaningfully when a conductor asks for a deeply felt approach to a musical line. These advantages added up to a conception of this work which completely transcended typical performances. Tempos were chosen for interpretive reasons, without regard for the physical limitations of children's voices. Phrases were shaped with thoughtful intent and caressed lovingly. Even the difference in timbre between a boy choir and an adult ensemble was moved from the "compromise" column and made into a bona fide feature. At this point the reviewer's skill in conveying ephemeral abstractions comes right up against the limitations of written language. The performance was magical, wondrous and definitive and was the high point of an evening already filled with musical marvels. Composer Britten (along with all of the composers represented) was well served this night.


The second half of the program began with mostly familiar tunes in inventively crafted arrangements, sung with precision and warmth, and leading into a set of three carols from the countries of Norway, Sweden and Finland.  Three of Alice Parker's masterful arrangements of well known Christmas pieces followed and were approached with both respect and enthusiasm. The concluding piece, Night of Silence provided the audience an opportunity to sing "Silent Night" to the accompaniment of the professionals in the Tennessee Chamber Chorus, which surely must have been on several bucket lists!


An extended standing ovation brought a short encore and suddenly the memorable evening was over. The extraordinary vocal artistry of twenty professional singers (many of whom were heard in stunning solos), extraordinary accompaniments by harpist Christa Wenger and organist/pianist Mary Beth Wickes and superb musical direction by conductor Cameron LaBarr combined to make a musical event worthy of any prestigious venue in any of the great cities of the world. Chattanooga celebrates Christmas with style and excellence.

(Dan Gawthrop is a former music critic, Washington Post)


CSO Orchestra And CSO Youth Orchestras Join For A “Side-By-Side” Concert On Feb. 26

The Chattanooga Symphony and Opera and the CSO Youth Orchestras present an event, featuring not only two of the youth orchestras in concert (Symphony and Philharmonic), but also the CSO Orchestra and the CSOYO Symphony combined.  This event gives CSOYO students a chance to learn more about their craft by working alongside the CSO musicians, and gives the  audience ... (click for more)

V-Day UTC Presents Benefit Reading Of The Vagina Monologues Feb. 23-25

UTC’s Women’s Action Council and Women’s Center will present a three-performance benefit reading of Eve Ensler’s award winning play The Vagina Monologues at the UTC University Center Auditorium. Performances will be Thursday and Friday, Feb. 23-24, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 25, at 2 p.m.  All proceeds from tickets and donations will benefit the Partnership for ... (click for more)

Man Found With 2,218 Grams Of Crystal Meth At East Ridge Motel; 2nd Man Has 44.5 Grams Of Meth

Authorities arrested two men outside an East Ridge motel with one having 2,218 grams of meth in a backpack and the other 44.5 grams of meth. Samuel Swafford was the man with the backpack and William Hayden Masengale had the other large amount of meth. Swafford and Lacy Norris are charged with being felons in possession of over 50 grams of meth. On Jan. 12, law enforcement ... (click for more)

2 People Shot After Domestic Dispute In Brainerd; Corey Moon Taken Into Custody On Saturday Night

Two people were shot during a domestic dispute in Brainerd late Friday night.   Chattanooga Police responded at 11:17 p.m. to the 4700 block of Rogers Road on a shooting. The following are the preliminary facts of that investigation.   Officers were able to locate two victims, Cortez Moon, 23, and Terri Dossett, 45, suffering from non-life threatening gunshot ... (click for more)

CVB Strengthens Hamilton County - And Response (5)

Rather than Tim Boyd lashing out at the great work that the CVB does he should reflect on the Return on Investment that Bob Doak and his team give the County.   The hotel/motel tax is paid by tourists, not locals, so there is no extra tax burden to the citizens of Hamilton County. The County portion, as Commissioner Boyd notes, funds the CVB so the more ad dollars that ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: It Ain’t Gonna Work

In the last seven days, there have been seven different people who have been shot in separate incidents in Chattanooga. On Tuesday, the City Council approved a total $223,656 in street cameras and accessories to take pictures of our gangstas when the cops already know them by first names. Late last month it was announced the Chattanooga Police Department would double our gang violence ... (click for more)