Calmus, around the world in an evening, at TFAC

Published 5:51 pm Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Five young German singers – a lady and four gentlemen – took us on what they called a “Vocal Journey.” This rich and varied program on stage at Tryon Fine Arts Center Nov. 15 was Tryon Concert Association’s second offering and proved to be a winner.

The charismatic and disciplined group made more than an obligatory nod to Johann Sebastian Bach whose many years in Leipzig left a legacy that continues to influence the musical life of the city. As graduates of the 800-year-old St. Thomas Church Choir School (founded 1212 in Leipzig), these five singers truly have Bach in their blood.

The Bach set was a tight package of representative works – a bright, soft chorale followed by a polyphonic movement from a cantata, then a fugue requiring virtuosic attention. I keenly felt the absence of strings in the middle piece, but soon ignored this and enjoyed getting to know the Calmus character.

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England was our second stop and our first chance to hear the group produce a full sound. The two Purcell pieces reminded me that English can indeed be beautifully set.

These motets would have suffered in translation. The imitative entrances in “Lord, how long wilt thou be angry” were especially good and the group’s English was clean and free of the common affectations that can shout “Not our native tongue!”

Individual personalities began to creep forward in “La Bomba,” a dramatic story-telling piece composed in the 1500s by Mateo Flecha the Elder in Spain. The five singers became sailors fighting a thunderstorm, shouting for “La bomba” (a pump). Fear and confusion were clearly conveyed through music, sounds, and spoken text – a splendid example of the old Spanish form “ensalada” (mixed salad).