Reviews

San Mateo Times, May 16, 2006 Examiner/Independent, May 13, 2006
Michel Voisin in "le dauphiné", July 2001 San Mateo Weekly, May 1997
San Mateo Times, May 16, 2006
Choral concert marries poetry, music
By Keith Kreitman, CONTRIBUTOR

MUCH to my surprise the Cañada Master Chorale is not dead after all. After being booted out of Cañada College with all the other music programs in 2001, it has been resurrected as Peninsula Cantare by its outstanding music director, Janice Gunderson. And in its concert at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Redwood City this past weekend, it sounded better than ever.

Gunderson is an example of how outstanding conductors are able to infuse their musical spirits into receptive performers. Their schooling and control of interpretations, dynamics and vocal color is what moves a disparate gathering of musicians from good to outstanding. Pitch and intonation were great. This chorus sounds a lot bigger than its 32 members.

Although their repertoire has been steeped in the classics back to the Renaissance, in this concert Gunderson moved fearlessly into the modern composers with the support of the Pacific Strings Quartet, pianist Alexander Bootzin and, in some numbers, the luscious clarinet tone of Katherine Hamburger.

Most of the music was rooted in the words of some great poets. American composer Gwyneth Walker took "Ode" from the 19th-century poet Arthur O'Shaughnessy and came up with a lovely "The Dreamer of Dreams."

"The Sprig of Thyme" is a collection of English and Irish folk songs, arranged by the Englishman John Rutter, again with exquisitely poetic lyrics. The British Isles didn't know much about creating great symphonies, operas or concerti, but no one can beat their folk songs. Soloists were Sharon Rice and clarinetist Hamburger. It is interesting how seamlessly the clarinet blends with voice and strings.

Then the Pacific Strings Quartet went into a quartet by Antonin Dvorak, which I thought was very beautiful and moving except I was wrong. My eye skipped a line in the program and, much to my surprise, the piece was in fact a classically rooted "Lullaby" by, of all people, George Gershwin. What other great things could he have written had he not died at age 39?

And in the movement from Dvorak's String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96, the quartet showed it is talent to reckon with. Composed of violinists Karen Lindblom and DalRae Murray, violist Mary Bormann and cellist Kjell Stenberg, it has the best sound I have heard since the Ives Quartet and that is saying something.

The name John Corigliano may not be a household one, but he is surely one of the great contemporary American composers. The second half of the Cantare program was dedicated to his "Fern Hill," set to the poetry of the great Dylan Thomas, with musical accompaniment by the quartet and piano. The vocal soloist was Vicki Hanson.

It is difficult to rave about a composition in words. Music is for listening, not description, but this is certainly a masterpiece of choral music. Gunderson has demonstrated how beautifully poetry and music can be married.

Great concert.

The Northern California Chorale Brilliantly Opens the Season

California? Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the West Coast on the Pacific ... this legendary state in the United States has also been known in Thônes for having welcomed one of its children, Marie Suize, called "Marie Pantalon", a picturesque gold seeker in the second half of the 19th century. But California, from now on, will also be this choir of 18 women and 14 men, who came this week to successfully open the 2001 summer season at St. Maurice church.

The first part of the evening was assured in the choir loft by the chorale of the "Centre de pratique musical" of Thônes, "Cantathônes" with Brice Montagnoux on the organ and Martial Renard on the trumpet. Purcell, Bach, a Slavic folk song, then also the "Locus Iste" of Bruckner, the "Ave Verum Corpus" of Mozart, and to finish, choruses from the Christmas Oratorio of Saint-Saëns. The program was therefore most varied. An enthusiastic ovation saluted the great progress made, in so few years, by this vocal ensemble of Thônes, which successfully closed its 2000-2001 season.

The Northern California Chorale then took its place in the chancel at the foot of the altar piece. It consisted of members of the Peninsula Cantare and the Northern California Chamber Chorale, joining for a tour of Germany and France (Strasbourg, Avignon, Thônes, and Ajaccio) before continuing to Spain (Barcelona Cathedral).

Directed alternately by Janice Gunderson and Curtis Sprenger, the choristers began with several religious pieces in classical style: Magnificat by Pachelbel, Knauf's Psalm 117, Gloria ... to take us to the more rhythmic shores of Gospel: "Gwine Up" (Fenner), "Come Where My Love" (Foster), or songs which have become classics: "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child"... Exceptional sonorities, expression, color, precision, clarity, the nuanced qualities of the American ensemble called forth the enthusiasm of the audience, who rose to hail the final piece, "Glory Hallelujah"!


May 3, 1997 San Mateo Weekly

Cañada's Master Chorale first-rate

CLASSICAL CONCERTS

BY KEITH KREITMAN
Correspondent
 When one adds up an imaginative selection of songs with an obviously highly intelligent, well-schooled, and disciplined group of performers, and mix in a strong, well-trained director with a top-notch piano accompanist, what do you get? A first rate performance.
 In an impeccable performance at the college theater last Sunday afternoon, the Cañada College's Peninsula Master Chorale was able to move this un-reconstructed symphony orchestra man to wish that he hadn't cut short his singing lessons.
 No one claims that this group is a competitor with the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, but what heights it fails to achieve in vocal quality is more than made up for by the intelligence of the performance.
 Contemplate what additional burden concert singers must carry when compared to instrumentalists.
 Not only must they be steeped in the same musical tradition and perform with the same concert dynamics as their instrumental consorts, they must also internalize the meaning of the lyrics, often in foreign languages, and enunciate them clearly.
Furthermore, other than the piano, there are ordinarily no fixed pitch instruments to help them focus upon their own proper pitch; and Lord help them with intonation when they perform complex works with multiple others, from basses to lyric sopranos.
 If they are lucky, they will have a top notch director, and in Janice Gunderson, the Peninsula Master Chorale has a winner.
 In her first concert since succeeding Carl Sitton, Gunderson won me over with the simplicity, directness, and control of her style.
 There is a direct line between that director and the performers. What she asks for, they give.
 From the softest staccatos to the most sonorous fortes, they never lose intonation or quality. Shrillness is simply not in their musical vocabulary.
 They were crisp when they needed to be, and mellowed out when that was called for. Moreover, the entrances and releases were impeccable.
 In this program, the Chorale focused on English and American music.
 The range of demands upon the performers was mind-boggling. From the Coronation Anthem No. 4 - by the great 18th century composer George Frideric Handel - through traditional folk songs, and sea chants, the group of over 40 voices showed that it was able to handle all moods and shifted smoothly without any gnashing of vocal gears.
 The test of good groups is not only that they read the notatations accurately and perform with meticulous regard to meter and dynamic markings, but that they infuse the whole with suitable human emotions and project all of that in a fashion that will move their audience.
 The Peninsula Master Chorale met all of those tests in spades.
 Their Handel was dignified. Their "Stomp Your Foot" by contemporary composer, Aaron Copeland, was appropriately rowdy. The "Wedding Cantata" by Daniel Pinkham was very moving.
 Scattered among these were some foot-stomping English traditional folk songs and a truly moving composition by the late Ralph Vaughn Williams, "Toward the Unknown Region," based on the philosophical poetry of Walt Whitman.
 A word needs to be said about Thomas Shoebotham, the piano accompanist for the Chorale since Janice Gunderson ascended to the director's spot. He did a yeomanly job of handling all of the style demands of such a diverse selection of compositions.
 It is not as if this 27-year-old group is just being discovered. It has already completed five international tours to Europe, Australia/New Zealand, and Japan. It is just that the group is, apparently, not known well enough in "these here" parts.
 You may quibble philosophically about whether the auditorium was half-full or half-empty that Sunday afternoon, but that can become a moot point if the auditorium becomes, deservedly, "all full" at the next performance.
 

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