Composer Joan Szymko.

A Cappella – Voices Through Time

Angela Vaughn Hampton, Artistic Director
Deborah Dierks, Collaborative Director

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2024 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

It is hard to believe that Voces Novae is celebrating its 30th Anniversary. Deeming themselves a “Choral Renaissance” is not hyperbolic in the least. This ensemble of both amateur and professional musicians devotes an incredible amount of time to crafting what is arguably some of the finest performances of choral music that spans over 500 years, in styles that include chant, gospel, and musical theater. And as impressive as the choice of styles, there is also a focus on living composers.

Sunday’s concert of acappella pieces was artfully performed to the high standards that have kept Voces Novae alive all these years, with an audience that seems to grow every time that they step on the risers and raise their collective music books.

The afternoon began with Joan Szymko’s Illumina le tenebre. According to the program notes provided by the composer, this musical prayer is believed to be among the oldest prayers of St. Francis. The Latin diction was crisp and articulate to the point that what little Latin I did know, I was able to follow along. But as good as the diction was, I was even more impressed with the unity of breath.

Moving on to Ralph Manuel’s Alleluia, the altos and tenors had some exceptionally brilliant moments, as did the whole of the choir in Anton Bruckner’s Locus Iste.

There were a few musical missteps in D.P. Palestina’s Exultate Deo where the lower voices seemed to struggle with rushing melismatic lines and a few singers on the side of the risers finished a bit louder than the rest of the group.

During the performance, we were treated to some small ensemble work from both SSAA and TTBB groups. As to the SSAAs, led by Elizabeth Weaver, Danielle Armstrong, and Christie Tompkins, performing the traditional Appalachian Hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, it felt as if this performance could have been lifted and dropped into the movie O Brother Where Art Thou. While not perfect due to some tonal quirks, the piece was most definitely a toe-tapper and had a solid revival spirit. The TTBBs, arranged in a circle around the pulpit of St. Matthews Episcopal, took us to church both literally and figuratively with their near-perfect rendition of the Traditional Spiritual “We Shall Walk Through the Valley of Peace”. Upon the last pronounced note uttered, I was sad that the song had ended. 

As is common with many a cappella concert, there are times that tonality becomes problematic and a few pieces had hiccups of that common phenomenon, such as Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times”. Despite an overall lovely delivery, there seemed to be a bit of a disconnect among the small ensemble. Luckily with Katie Kraft’s lovely descant and some listening to one another, the group seemed to grow out of the peril of flatness.

The ensemble ended their stunning performance with a haunting arrangement by Shawn Kircher of Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” and local composer Harry Pickens’ “The Dark Around Us, Come”, which comes from a set of poems by Kentucky Poet Laureate Wendell Berry. Featuring sopranos Sandra Vaughn and Shabnam Mockon and tenor Corey Logsdon, the trio understood the subtlety of choral vs solo performing as the ensemble held restraint in the sincerest of moments.

Voces Novae proved to me, once again, that there is most definitely a place in our community for music of such high caliber to be performed by musicians of distinction and talent for the next 30 years and beyond.

Bravi Tutti!

A Cappella – Voices Through Time

March 10, 2024

St. Matthews Episcopal
330 N. Hubbards Lane
Louisville, KY 40207

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York, and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over 25+ years of experience in the classical arts.