Voices of Ascension at St. James’ Church, Madison Avenue, on Thursday, February 4.
“Signature pieces” are crowd-pleasers, almost by definition: if it’s not the kind of thing that absolutely everyone loves, you probably won’t be performing it often enough for it to become a signature. I don’t begrudge Voices of Ascension putting together a program of such favorites—this is the choir’s twentieth anniversary, after all—but it did result in striking homogeneity. People love the Romantic period, and that’s what the program comprised: some early, some late, some French, such Russian, some Protestant, some Orthodox, but all Romantic, lushly expressive, sweetly melodic, chromatics yielding ultimately to tonality.
I don’t mean that as criticism, exactly—I love Mendelssohn and Bruckner and Rachmaninoff as much as anyone—but I would have enjoyed some Bach and Palestrina, too, or maybe Pärt or Britten or Chen. Under Dennis Keene’s baton, the choir has recorded works from the medieval period well into the twentieth century, so I’m puzzled why they limited themselves to just over a century of repertory here.
The first half of the program breezed through ten short works by assorted composers, and after an intermission, the choir performed Fauré’s heavenly Requiem—a cornerstore of Western choral literature for a reason. And even if I wearied a bit of all the pretty, pretty Romanticism, I never tired of the choir’s warmth. The voices blended together exquisitely, filling the sanctuary with glorious sound.