The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday February 8th

Chanticleer Redefines Perfection With Memorial Hall Performance

The classical vocal ensemble gave an intricate, savvy and perfectly arranged show at Memorial Hall on Tuesday.

5 Stars

Its secondary moniker is "an orchestra of voices." Yet it is rare to see any orchestral performance that so widely lays bare the expectations and emotions of its audience.

The rarity of this phenomenon of undisputed musical excellence may have something to do with the rarity of this particular type of ensemble.

An all-male chorus, 12 voices strong, Chanticleer boasts a full range of voices, from soprano to bass, that challenges and rises above any expectations commonly held or labeled as perfection in vocal range or tone.

Each member obviously having come to the group with considerable prior training, Chanticleer exhibited performance savvy that scoffed at the lighted stage productions and concert antics of the modern rock star.

The singers's whole performance reflected the piercing, expansive effect they had on their audience. Opening their concert with a complex Renaissance piece, they navigated the intricacies of difficult entrances and interlocking phrases with a more than adept attention to detail and tone. Even in their arrangement on stage, a simple semicircle, they were the picture of undeniable perfection.

The performance had a shape to it, a funnel that began as a focused and simple approach. As the evening progressed, however, Chanticleer drew its audience into its ever more complex and expansive stage arrangements, musical experimentation and its inexplicable stage presence.

Even the initial hesitation, found particularly in the soprano parts at the beginning of the performance, warmed into almost a boldness in delivery.

Ranging between this sort of delicacy and fortuity, the members maintained the tension of a flickering candle, a breath brushing against the face before a kiss.

In this way Chanticleer mocked any musical performer who has ever stepped onto a stage. The group exhibited both presence and an ability to slip into different musical styles as easily as one breath into another. Each unexpected turn in the performance elicited delighted expulsions of breath from the audience.

An ever-changing program, a series of Cuban works followed a piece based on an ethonomusicologist's experiences in the Buddhist temples of Kyoto, Japan.

The series of four Cuban works to the closing of the show contained the best illustration of the gifts of Chanticleer.

One moment held a twirling of minor harmonies, a dance of seduction recalling Hispanic girls stamping the ground in a revolution against propriety. The next revealed a cloying song of the Cuban hills. Each musical layer rested upon the next, pressing indentations into the ethereal atmosphere that by this point in the performance, was clearly established.

An orchestra of voices, an orchestra without a conductor, Chanticleer members maintained a connection with one another that has few equals. The singers seemed to hold eye contact as if drawing tones out of each other with their gazes.

Chanticleer closed its show with a selection of spirituals and standards including Steven Foster's "I Dream of Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair."

It was commanded brilliantly by a soloist whose voice could cut through the murkiness that an accumulation of days can cast on a sensitive soul. The line "floating like a vapor" could have been figuratively taken for onomatopoeia, its delivery being nothing short of otherworldly.

"Willow Weep for Me" took the kind of bluesy turns that 12 white men are intrinsically not capable of, but Ella would have approved.

Carefully used embellishments in these pieces highlighted of their training in a variety of styles and of the awareness and sincere passion they gave to their performance.

And that is truly what musical perfection is about -- performers conveying to an audience that they can sit back without concern and a flawless concert will be theirs.

In the hands of Chanticleer the confidence it instills in its audience extends further. Not only a flawless performance can be expected, but a sound and an indelible purity will audibly illustrate a stretching of the limits of mortal pleasure and spiritual pain.

The Arts and Entertainment Editor can be reached at

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