When the Tennessee Chamber Chorus began to sing “A Prayer Before Singing,” at the back of the nave at Church St. United Methodist Church Saturday night, their collective voice illuminated the Church Street’s wonderful acoustics. By the time the sound reached the altar at the front, it had the texture of warm, silk velvet.
For this concert, the Chorus’ 16 professional voices had been fleshed out by 14 collegiate singers, interning with the chorus. For part of the program, they were also joined by the Chattanooga Boys Choir, which also sung a segment of the program on their own.
Directed by Dr. Alan Stevens, of the six works on their opening section of the program, the most interesting and the most complex was British composer John Rutter’s 1989 “A Choral Fanfare,” a challenging piece for singers of any level.
A setting of Psalm 81:3-4, the Chorus’s forces superbly handled the complex jacquard textures and vibrant polyphonic colors.
Guy Forbes’ “O Nata Lux” highlighted the delicate, subtle qualities of this professional, a cappella ensemble.
Joined by the Chattanooga Boys Choir, they sang a thoroughly joyful “Carol of the Bells.”
Then the Boys Choir, directed by Vincent Oaks, sang “Tidings of Comfort and Joy,” “When you Believe,” from the animated film “The Prince of Egypt,” Ruth Elaine Schram’s “Hanukkah, Shalom,” and “Believe,” from the animated film “Polar Express.”
Instead of having to leave the Boys Choir when their voices change, Chattanooga allows their young men to stay through high school. It’s a plan that adds depth and richness to a choir normally limited to boy sopranos.
Although Chattanooga Boys Choir generally lacked the vocal strength of other boys’ choirs I’ve heard, their precision and accuracy were a pleasure to hear.
When the Tennessee Chamber Chorus rejoined the Boys Choir, they sang “Laudamus Te” from Antonio Vivaldi’s “Gloria.”
Then again by themselves, the most interesting pieces were Matthew Culloton’s arrangement of “The Wexford Carol” and Howard Helvey’s “Ding Dong! Merrily on High,” both of which highlighted the Chorus’ vocal clarity.
At moments during “Ding Dong!, the music had elements of the tintinnabulation that characterizes the choral music of Arvo Part.
But the highlight of the program had to be their performance of “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” which began with the single, crystalline, high soprano voice of Susan Kelly, joined by two more voices, then the whole chorus.
It was atmospheric and stellar.
The Tennessee Chamber Chorus, made up of half academic musicians and half free-lance professional sings, is a professional ensemble. Based in Cleveland, they perform across the East Tennessee region.
At their website, one can register for their mailing list to keep up with their performance dates.
You won’t regret it.