For its spring concert, Kantorei KC presented “The Peace of Wild Things,” an eclectic and mindful program exploring metaphors drawn from nature: the cycle of the day, of the seasons and of life. The group, now in its seventh season, contributes to the robust choral community of the Kansas City region with a fine cohort of local vocalists.
The ensemble typically performs sacred music, but this concert used primarily secular sources from the 16th century through 21st centuries, from the late Renaissance to modern Estonian and American voices, set on poetry from Robert Burns, Ai Qing, Wendall Berry and Rainer Marie Rilke.
“Psalm 104,” a prayer of praise from Estonian composer Cyrillus Kreek, began with calm, slow-moving harmonies, though the work’s peak demonstrated the power capable of this 13-voice ensemble.
Founder and artistic director Chris Munce stepped forward to conduct Paul Hindemith’s “Six Chanson,” though usually he directs from within the group, as part of the alto section. These songs, using French text from Rilke, plunged into philosophical worlds of love and loss and death and renewal, the choir indicating the emotional range and musical contrasts with surety and finesse of tone.
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James MacMillian set Burns’ Gaelic-flavored words in “The Gallant Weaver,” which opened with a lovely soprano trio, supported by the chorus. The work literally wove the lines of the text into a complex texture, the layers creating interesting dissonances, ending on delicate hummed cadence. Humming finished off “Öhtul (Evening),” too, the work from Estonian Pärt Uusberg. The poetry from Ernst Enno balanced between calm and longing as it described dusk and the music did, too, with a dark, far off beginning, rising in passion, then receding to nothingness.
The first set ended with Zhou Long’s “Words of the Sun,” in an English translation from Ai Qing’s poem. Soloist Vince Woods sang warmly as the wakeful sun, the chorus in a wordless texture before erupting in a lively central section, adeptly handling the sudden transitions.
They selected four nature-themed works from Claudio Monteverdi’s extensive output of madrigals for a beautiful set of polyphonic works, well presented with a few tricky tunings.
Munce conducted “Les Chansons des Rose,” by Morten Lauridsen, which also used Rilke’s French poems, the rich musical material expressing the vast emotional content. The chastising language of “En une seule fleur” came through in the fast-paced, text-heavy lyrics, against the somber, long-spun texture of “Contre qui, rose” and the high contrast segments of “De ton rêve trop plein.” They were a bit uncentered at the start of “La rose complète,” but proceeded with the mesmerizing rise and fall of the work, ending with the lush, lilting “Dirait-on.”
The concert ended, then, with Jake Runestad’s “The Peace of Wild Things,” from Wendall Berry’s contemplative poem, examining the restorative effect in returning to nature. Subtly triumphant, the harmonic shift and emotional transformation likewise had a rejuvenating effect, presented with the most natural of instruments, the human voice, in an enjoyable and refreshing concert.
Additional performance 3 p.m. May 21. Village Presbyterian Church, 6641 Mission Rd, Prairie Village, KS 66208. $20 General Admission, $15 Seniors, Free for Students 21 and under with ID. www.kantoreikc.org.