Chanticleer is a San Francisco based male classical vocal ensemble. The group has acquired an ardent fan following due to the fact that their music serves as a communion with God at a time when mainstream popular music is becoming more sexualized and violent. The group has been in existence since 1978 and have given numerous memorable performances in genres such as jazz, gospel, Renaissance, etc. This essay will be a critical appraisal of one of their recent performance of Franz Biebl’s masterpiece Ave Maria.
Ave Maria stands out as a composition as it sets parts of the Angelus and Ave Maria. It is unique in the manner in which it conjoins these two sources. The Angelus is a ritual performed in Catholic Churches thrice a day. To it is conjoined the more standard Ave Maria prayer, which goes Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, etc). One of the highlights of Chanticleer’s rendition of this hybrid variation on Ave Maria is how it skillfully interweaves these ancient songs.
There were 12 singers in the ensemble. They are made up of two basses, three tenors, six counter tenors and one baritone. The six countertenors are in turn made up of three altos and three sopranos. The group is made up of men from different age groups, but are mostly young and in 20s and 30s. The youthfulness comes across in the blend of lively, vibrant tones where there is still room for individuality. During the performance, it is noticeable how clean and mellifluous their trained voices are. The singing style is markedly classical, yet comes across as refreshingly original. There is balance and precision to the performance. The rendition can thus be summed up as being both pleasing and sophisticated.
The recitalists were dressed in neat black coats on top of white shirts. This sober and solemn appearance of the musical crew indicates the gravity of the piece they are performing. After all, Ave Maria is an introspective, moving and complex piece. The dress code of the members of Chanticleer reflects the nature of music. It should be mentioned that the visual ambience of the grand stage and the acoustic theatre atmosphere contribute to the overall effect of the performance.
Some of the areas in which the Ave Maria performance excelled were the purity of tone and the apt variety in the repertoire. The sense of pitch and intonation were near perfect. Also evident is the stylistic diversity within what is a short musical piece (lasting 5 minutes 40 seconds). Based on all these excellences it is fair to call the performance as one of winsome and wonderful variety and beauty. From the beginning to the end it is virtuoso rendition of what is a virtuoso composition by Franz Biebl.
It is thus not surprising that the performance got a standing ovation from the assembled audience – most of whom are ardent lovers of classical music and knowledgeable about the nuances of the genre. It is understandable why Ave Maria is an integral composition to the Chanticleer repertoire and will be so in the future. The piece is suited for playing in church gatherings, school assemblies, marriage ceremonies, etc, giving it a wide practical utility as well.