Established in 1972, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus is a choir of 200 singers, 30 of whom are professionals. Vance George, their third Director, has been in post since 1983.
Mr. George, who presumably devised this programme, describes it as " a choral portrait of the past century. It is a story of Romanticism, Expressionism, Impressionism and Minimalism." The pieces collected here illustrate one or other of these genres.
I have previously heard quite a number of the pieces on this CD but almost always in performances by chamber choirs. I wondered therefore if that might make it difficult for me to enjoy the same pieces sung by a large group. However, Mr. George has built up a flexible and supple choir and I never found the sound too "big" for any of the pieces.
The programme calls for linguistic as well as musical virtuosity for the choir is required to sing in French, Latin and Hungarian as well as in English. Neither the polyglot nature of the music, nor its stylistic variety seems to trouble them at all and they cope effortlessly with all the musical demands. Their sound, tone and ensemble are excellent throughout.
There were several highlights for me. These included the three pieces in French (sensibly grouped together), all of which receive beautifully warm performances. I also greatly enjoyed their mellifluous and marvellously controlled account of Randall Thompson's ecstatic Alleluia and the tender and lilting Barber setting. Of the pieces new to me Conrad Susa's Winds of May, with its swinging choral lines above a virtuoso piano part, made the strongest impression. And it is hard to resist the irresistible joy of the setting of the spiritual, Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal, particularly when sung as well as is here the case.
Not everything is quite on the level of those items.
Quite why the American composer, Meredith Monk should be the only
composer to be represented by two compositions is beyond me. In particular
I found the pointless meanderings of Earth Seen from Above a complete
bore - to make matters worse it is also the longest item in the programme!.
I would far rather have seen one of John Adam's choruses from The
Death of Klinghoffer included. Adam's music has far more substance
than that of Ms Monk appears to have. The other big disappointment is
the anonymous arrangement of the Jerome Kern song. I can't understand
why the introductory verse has been omitted (all we get is the refrain,
sung twice) and the arrangement is so fussy that the tune itself - one
of Kern's best - is often buried. A great pity.
However, most of this collection is very enjoyable and it shows
off the choir to good effect. The standard of performance is consistently
high and the recording quality is very good. Full texts are provided
and the notes are adequate.