20th Century French Choral Masterworks
20th Century French Choral Masterworks

Saturday, November 15th - 7:30 PM
First Presbyterian Church

Bloomington Chamber Singers, an auditioned choir of community members and students, performed a unique concert of twentieth-century French choral music at First Presbyterian Church in Bloomington on November 15. Gerald Sousa, in his 26th year as Artistic Director of the Chamber Singers, conducted the fifty-voice choral ensemble, soloists, and instrumental accompanists.

The program of works by French masters Ravel, Poulenc, Faure, and Martin was designed to delight and surprise the audience. From somber tales of lost lovers to witty, fast-paced chansons about nymphs and sprites, the Bloomington Chamber Singers’ fall concert was an inspiring set of engaging music.

Coming on the heels of a boom in artistic freedom in Europe, French composers of the first half of the twentieth century explored new types of voicings, new topics, and unusual harmonies to create some of the most enjoyable works of the choral canon. Audiences appreciated the fundamentally tonal and accessible melodies overlayed by creatively striking harmonic arrangements. Performed by the always engaging Bloomington Chamber Singers, which sold out both performances of its Spring 2014 concert of Annelies by James Whitbourn, the November concert was a satisfying adventure for all who took part in it.


Here is the review of our concert in the Bloomington Herald-Times:


24 choral pieces performed with some beautiful singing

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer | pjacobi@heraldt.com Nov 18, 2014

Come April, and the Bloomington Chamber Singers will offer two performances of the Brahms “German Requiem” and John Adams’ September 11-commissiond choral work, “On the Transmigration of Souls.”

Big pieces for this hard-working community choir to undertake, just as is the annual “Messiah Sing Along,” coming up soon to mark the Christmas season. BCS members, however, are used to challenges. They expect music director and conductor Gerald Sousa to supply them.

On Saturday evening, in Bloomington’s First Presbyterian Church, at the ensemble’s fall concert, the music sung was of a different, less grandiose nature: for change of pace, an 80-minute program of 20th century French choral masterworks. Into those 80 minutes, Maestro Sousa packed 24 compositions, the last one an encore.

Think of it: 24 choral pieces, a program of short items versus big ones. Now, please consider. Mastery of a major work is, indeed, a major accomplishment; it generally brings cheers and bravos. But consider that, for the weekend concert, conductor and chorus had to prepare 24 different works, each package of music and words a little world in itself. What about that as a challenge?

For example, to begin, Sousa selected “Trois Chansons” by Maurice Ravel: “Nicolette,” who chose money over the fields of her youth; three birds of paradise casting magic at a time of war, and “Ronde,” a patter song about “the woods at Ormond,” overrun with satyrs, centaurs, and other devilish creatures. Each Ravel song contains scene, characters, and action; they need to be carefully established and were.

Gabriel Faure’s “Cantique de Jean Racine” requires music that suits these words: “Pour on us the fire of your powerful grace so that all hell flees at the sound of your voice.” Lili Boulanger’s “Hymne au Soleil” expresses the triumph of each day’s “reborn sun” rising in splendor.

The concert included a dozen songs by Francis Poulenc. A few of them praise God. Most of them tell a story: about little girls dancing in a ring on a lovely Sunday; about Margoton going to a well and falling to the bottom, only to be saved by “handsome lads;” about the “prince’s little daughter who wishes to marry” tells a serenader that her “heart is full of tears because you have captured it.”

Other composers given attention were Frank Martin and Pierre Villette. As a package, the chosen works provided a listener with a rich representation of French choral music in the 20th century, some of it lyrical and harmonic, some of it dissonant, some of it rousing, some of it in a variety of styles. Conductor Sousa had captured essences which, master musician that he is, he instilled in his singers. One heard some beautiful singing, to which assistant conductor and accompanist Gregory Geehern effectively added instrumental context on the piano.