Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Ones Who Deserved To Make It

The Choirs that deserved to make it:


Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir: The thought that they're not mentioned among the world's greatest choirs is kind of a disgrace.  Even if it was founded thirty years ago, it's one of the world's great traditional choirs and was a symbol of freedom in the late-Soviet era when religious music was still taboo. This is the choir that brought to the world most of the choral music of Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Part, Erkki-Sven Tuur, Sofia Gubaidulina, Giya Kancheli and Veljo Tormis (who's my personal choice for greatest living choral composer).  You may have never heard of these composers, but one day your grandchildren might.

Leipzig Radio Choir (now known as the MDR Choir): If you love those ultra-serious German radio choirs (and who doesn't?), this is the standard-bearer for them all.  Listen to them beat everybody at the 'choral behemoths' like the B-Minor Mass or the Mozart Requiem in those incredible Peter Schreier recordings.  Then listen to them under Herbert Kegel take on the most avant-garde possible music like Ligeti and Berio.  This seems a chorus comprised solely of great musicians who probably have no sense of humor.  Just don't expect them to sing Aerosmith.

Schola Cantorum de Venezuela: The bannerhead choir of El Sistema, the choir of John Adams and Osvaldo Golijov but like the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra (their orchestral semi-counterpart), an ensemble that proves just as capable in the traditional repertoire as in things without the Latin twinge.

Los Angeles Master Chorale (under protest): This is the choir that gave us Morton Lauridsen.  And yet it's almost unquestionably the greatest chorus in America (that should tell you something).  For twenty years they were drilled by Roger Wagner (Robert Shaw on the West Coast).  Since Grant Gershon took over ten years ago, the place is breathing a different air.  This is a now a chorus that's beginning to champion a better breed of new composer.  Reich, Glass, Muhly have all gone to LA to permiere, that should tell you something.

Eric Ericson Chamber Choir: The name means what it says.

(Where's Chanticleer you ask?...)

Smaller Ensembles:

The King's Singers:  Seriously, how could they not be there?  For over 40 years, verything a great chorus should be shrunk to 1/10th its size.  People (myself included) used to resent the King's Singers for selling out and putting Byrd next to the Beatles.  But if anybody wants to see the only way forward for classical music, just look to them.

Voces8: The King's Singers SATB heir.  Both groups combine the best of choruses with a cappella groups.  I'm constantly amazed that more professional singers don't follow their examples.

The Hilliard Ensemble: The most incredible musicianship you'll ever hear from any singers.  A group of enormous musical integrity and taste who makes the conscious effort to perform only the best at the highest level, regardless of era or area.

(Where's Anonymous 4?...)

Early Music:

Bach Collegium Japan: For my money, gives the very best Bach performances on period instruments in the world.  In this case the name means they don't really perform much else.  They don't need to.

Gachinger Kantorei:.  Helmuth Rilling has been honing them for 56 years, and the results speak for themselves.  Nobody has gotten Bach to sound this lithe and dramatic with modern instrumental accompaniment.  Rilling is a sure hand at much else too, from Monteverdi to Brahms to Penderecki.  They may not be the most unique choir in the world, but few beat them for traditional excellence.

Amsterdam Baroque Choir: Ton Koopman is probably a better keyboardist than conductor.  But if the Monteverdi Choir can make this list, so can the Amsterdam Baroque Choir which gives performances of early music with the kind of unsubtle dramatic force which Gardiner often seems to be going for without hitting you over the head.

Gabrieli Consort: There are few conductors working today more imaginative than Paul McCreesh.  His Bach isn't very good, but his Handel and Haydn are revelatory.  His earlier music has the willingness to keep a flexible pulse which so many of his early music predecessors lacked.  Only Harry Christophers is a better programmer.

(Where's...any American early music ensemble?..)

We're not getting into collegiate, symphony, operatic or festival choruses here...(do I even know anything about Festival Choruses?).  

...and now that I think about it I can't think of any Russian ones either.  Just goes to show how qualified I am to make a list like this....ah well.


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