|Bel Canto at the Basilica. Bel Canto Chorus photo.|
The messages of faith arrived packaged in two very different idioms and carrying different sentiments.
MacMillan, a Scottish Catholic, tends toward high passion and fire and brimstone, and Seven Last Words (1993) is no exception. Lauridsen, an American who appears to be something of an ecumenical mystic, leans toward the contemplative sort of religious ecstasy that shines so beautifully in Lux Aeterna (1997).
MacMillan builds tension by increasing volume and density over time. As he adds layers, he piles up keys. The close polytonality, often at the interval of the second, creates discord surely meant to express the suffering of Christ on the Cross and the anguish many Christians feel to this day on Good Friday. MacMillan typically releases the tension by thinning the textures, in a sort of palindrome structure, and thus gradually reducing the dissonance. The most extreme example of this came in the very fitting ending, which dwindled to two violins from the string orchestra resolving minor seconds again and again amid long pauses as they very gradually faded to nothing, in an episode that Hynson shaped with exquisite patience.
The large pattern described above is easy to discern and even to predict after the first two sections, but surprises abound within that pattern. In particular, explosive shouts, often surrounded by long silences and usually comprising tone clusters, cracked like flagellants' whips.
The 110-voice chorus sang this difficult piece confidently under Hynson's sure hand. Unanimous, vigorous attacks and finely graded dynamics conveyed the passion of the music, and sure tuning and excellent ensemble let us fully comprehend its polytonal elements. We heard not only dissonance, but also line.
Lux Aeterna is all about resonance as the sonic embodiment of awareness of the religious dimension. The Bel Canto's excellent collective vowel formation and intonation made the music not just sound but a spiritual presence.
Next up for the Bel Canto: Carmina Burana on May 21.