Dallas — Artistic director and conductor Jon L. Culpepper’s effective use of shading and shaping provides for the Dallas Chamber Choir a tonal identity that is lovely and consistent. In a tribute to the beauty of nature and mankind’s relationship with the natural world, the DCC presented a program last weekend consisting of rich, harmonically lush music that accentuated the group’s acoustic character to a near indulgent degree.
Titled Walden (an homage to Thoreau and his transcendentalist book of the same name, which explores nature, spirituality, and self-reliance), Culpepper’s curation drew largely on pieces with slow-moving, sweeping textures and warm, uncomplicated harmonies.
Calling upon the compositional stylings of all mid-century to contemporary composers, Culpepper’s musical variation was limited. With the exception of a few pieces, the program can be characterized, roughly, by a smooth adagio. It is, however, a setting in which the DCC works exceptionally well.
The concert opened with Thomas LaVoy’s “What of the Darkness” from the 2015 song cycle Songs of the Questioner. With it, the 26-person choir established a marked command over the dark, ebbing dynamics of LaVoy’s composition, as well as the shifting levels of light and dark as they navigate between modes. Their interpretation of Rene Clausen’s “Tonight Eternity Alone” pours out like honey, with a protracting thickness of texture depicting the beauty of a setting sun.
Ethan Sperry’s “Desh,” an arrangement of a tradition Indian rāga, is a departure from the norm of this concert, as the choir opens the piece with a surprising display of throat singing, resulting in bright harmonic overtones. It moves through rhythmic, percussive chants and a quick-tempo cut-time section.
The set also included a U.S. premiere by English composer Paul Carr. His “Holding the Stars,” written in 2010, sets four voices, unaccompanied, in wide, solid harmonies that undulate between bright and dark chords. In addition, Culpepper included a work by a DCC member Andrew Steffen. His Specks of Earth is an 11-minute setting of the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore across nine movements. They range in tone and texture, from dramatic, fluttery word-painting in the opening “Stray Birds” to the intoxicating soundscaping achieved in the eighth movement “Fields,” which involves synchronized inhales and exhales in the choir over comfortably tense chords in the piano, which Jordan Peek executed thoughtfully.
“Song to the Moon,” by Z. Randall Stroope, is a lovely collaboration between choir, piano, oboe, and flute. Here, oboist Juan Flores-Johnson and flautist Kelly Shea, provided a plush layer of warm, lamenting air to the overall texture.
It was a straightforward enough collection of music to augment the very large, conceptual nature of the central theme. In the surprisingly accommodating Moody Performance Hall, the Dallas Chamber Choir demonstrated several moments of choral brilliance Saturday night. Their blend resonated throughout the hall and, on several occasions, hung with a lingering brightness that served the overall narrative of the program. I would have, however, preferred a bit more variety in the way of tonal colors, textures, and tempi throughout. What can be said, though, is that Culpepper knows the strengths of his choir, and Walden played heavily to them.