Reviewed by Tony Villecco
When I was 11 years old and a boy soprano, my teacher, Harold Mason, a tenor with Tri-Cities Opera, wanted me to join the Vienna Boys Choir. My mom did not want her little boy going away that far, and this dream was never realized. However, last evening (Oct. 24), the Binghamton Philharmonic presented a one-night concert by the acclaimed choir and, for an all-too-brief moment, a little bit of heaven came down to earth in the form of 25 young voices.
Manuel Huber, an Italian from South Tyrol, expertly led the boys in an eclectic program of songs ranging from Gregorian chant to Leonard Bernstein and beyond. Huber is also a superb pianist with a great flair, and his choristers were adept at maneuvering to his every command.
The program, aptly titled “Journey Through the Americas,” focused on the musical heritage of both North and South America although the choir’s home base received a nod with some traditional Viennese works. Among the standouts were Duruflé’s “Tota pulchra es Maria” (“You are wholly beautiful, Mary”) with its gorgeous haunting dissonance and Verdi’s rarely performed “Laudi alla vergine Maria” (“Hymn to the Virgin Mary”), which Huber said was one of his favorite works. Unlike Verdi’s dramatic and often thundering operatic canon, it was lyrical and sung with finesse by the choir.
Copland’s popular and funny “I Bought Me A Cat” was a highlight of the first half. There was also a lovely rendition of Bernstein’s “Somewhere” and a jazzy version of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.” Still, it is Beethoven’s year at the Philharmonic, so the choir offered a unique and non-traditional version of “Ode to Joy.”
Huber’s commentary between sets was highly informative yet amusing as he introduced the numbers, which included audience participation at various points as well as dancing by the boys. The large but not sold-out house responded with humor and applause at each number.
Austria’s traditional folk songs opened the second half and one could almost visualize the snowy Alps and Sound of Music atmosphere during these songs. A beautiful rendition of the classic hymn :Amazing Grace” was followed by a Native American piece, “Song of the Spirit Dance” from the Arapaho Nation. South America’s rhythmic and spritely pieces were offered with marimbas, drums and the snapping of fingers by the 25 young singers.
The concert’s closing was all Strauss with both polkas and waltzes. All in all, it is was a charming and moving evening. The Vienna Boys Choir, legendary and long in existence, brought its innocence of youth and love for singing to The Forum in Binghamton at a time when our world seems chaotic and less than stable. For two hours, we escaped into the beautiful music, and isn’t that the purpose of art?