By Douglas Neslund
Once school starts in the Fall, one is rarely treated to a performance by a touring company of schoolboys. Even less should one expect to hear a boys’ choir that stands atop a virtual pyramid of professional choral ensembles, but this was clearly the exception.
Hosted and joined in song by the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus of Pasadena, the young men and boys from Windsbach in the Franconian portion of Bavaria, Germany, put on a demonstration of choral beauty that thrilled all in attendance at Pasadena’s Presbyterian Church.
The Windsbachers at home have their own choir school, and are supported by the German government. But in Germany, as in this country, the arts are under continuous threat that funding might be withdrawn at any time. Losing such a funding source at this level would likely destroy a living, breathing jewel of German arts and artists.
Difficulty of an all a cappella choral program was not at issue in the following repertoire drawn from a long list of musical morsels:
1. Os justi meditabitur, by Anton Bruckner
2. Domine, ad adjuvantum me, by Gottfried August Homilius
3. Ich lasse Dich nicht, by Johann Sebastian Bach
4. Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst, by Rudolf Mauersberger
5. Lux arumque, by Eric Whitaker
6. A Hymn to the Virgin, by Benjamin Britten
7. The Creation, by Willy Richter (men's voices)
8. Kommt, ihr G’spielen, arranged by Melchior Franck
9. Das Echo, by Orlando di Lasso
10. Heidenröslein, arranged by Heinrich Poos
11. Wohin mit der Freud, arranged by Friedrich Silcher
12. Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund, arr. Lissman/Göttsche
13. Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust, arranged by Helmut Barbe
14. Waldesnacht, by Johannes Brahms
Delicacy and utter beauty of tone, tight harmonic relationship among the various choral parts, and uniformity of vowel sounds, when coupled with an emotionally-charged interpretation by choirmaster Martin Lehmann, successor in 2012 to long-term Kapellmeister Karl-Friedrich Beringer, produced an unforgettable tapestry of sound.
The use of vowel colors throughout the spectrum is produced by choirs who learn to use that range without tearing the choral fabric. Mr. Lehmann’s conducting style, unlike so many conductors elsewhere, does not attract undue attention to himself despite exaggerated gestures, but is a very expressive act directly connected with the text and its interpretation. In the Bach, for example, he chose to “bend” the tempo, dynamics and internal choral balances to match the motet’s text. Such individualism is very dangerous, as it exposes the young singers to possible false starts, inadvertent “solos” and internal imbalances. Despite those risks, Maestro Lehmann succeeds in painting an aural portrait of each composer’s work that is distinguished and authentic.
There was nothing mechanical or suppressed in this performance. The music flowed, beautifully sung in every measure, every note. The Mauersberger is an 8-part wrenching series of questions as it asks why the city of Dresden needed to be bombed and leveled 69 years ago. The Whitaker requires very tight, unharmonic chord clusters perfectly performed. To end the concert with Brahms’ evocation of a forest at night was a benediction to be cherished. Two of the selections required a semi-chorus of eight singers to separate and alternate with the main chorus – perfection in tone, volume, and unity, especially in the cherishable Britten.
To begin the performance, Anne Tomlinson’s Concert Choir and Steven Kronauer’s Young Men’s Ensemble of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus demonstrated why their respective ensembles continue to attract critical attention. A comparison of the German and American choirs would be difficult to gauge, but it’s clear the pursuit of perfection is a hallmark of both organizations.
All three choirs joined together under Maestro Lehmann’s direction to end the concert with Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s beautiful "O Täler weit, o Höhen", and Ms. Tomlinson lead the assembled in James Erb’s familiar arrangement of the American folksong, "Shenandoah".
The Windsbacher America tour continues in New England through November first. Here is a YouTube sample (although this concert was even better!): http://youtu.be/DlIK-zy70ws
The choir's English website is here: https://windsbacher-knabenchor.de/en
Photos courtesy of Mila Pavan and the Windsbacher Knabenchor