Dallas — Donald Krehbiel’s success with Orpheus Chamber Singers has been marked with rigorously upheld standards. As conductor and artistic director, Krehbiel provides finely finessed shaping in his interpretations, and his fastidious fixation on tone, control, and color yields their characteristically pristine sound.
So, to kick off their 25th season, it’s a wonder why Krehbiel decided to venture the group into largely unknown territory with Southern Heat, a program designed to celebrate the music of Central and South America during the early Baroque period. The intermingling of European sacred musical influences (a result of Spanish and Portuguese colonization of the region) with native and African musical traditions culminated in a cultural palette that was rich, not only in color and texture, but in messaging as well. The use of native dialects and oral traditions at the foundation for much of the compositions at the time provided for a great diversity of content, which was well-represented in Southern Heat’s program.
Accompanied by guest musicians from some of the area’s most accomplished ensembles specializing in Baroque-era repertoire and performance practice, the careful coordination between choir and orchestra in the deeply resonant hall of Cathedral Guadalupe proved to be a challenge. Players from Tesserae Baroque, Texas Camerata, and the Early Music Department at University of North Texas spread in front of the choir. On replicas of Baroque and Renaissance-era instruments (cornetti, sackbuts, theorbo, and percussion), along with strings, guitar, recorder, and organ, the orchestra demonstrated a familiarity with the colors and practices accentuated in Eric Jones’ instrumental scores.
For many early music and world music instrumental ensembles, much of the effect comes from the intuitive coordination of the players with each other. When combined with the unyielding flow of Krehbiel’s conducting and the smartly tuned-in choir, there were moments of discord between singers and players. That is not to say that the aural framework was completely disserve by the imbalances. There were, indeed, moments of close-knit brilliance. Selections from Padilla’s Missa Ego Flos Campi rang with an appropriate beauty in the sanctuary, and the bright and rhythmic “Convidando Esta la Noche” was full and energetic.
While the Orpheus Chamber Singers managed to continue to demonstrate their distinguished position as one of the best choral groups in the city, one could find issues with the program itself if looked at with an ice-cold eye. With the content culturally engaged, presented in a pillar of Dallas’ Latinx community, Cathedral Guadalupe, it’s obvious that Krehbiel sought to celebrate an aspect of our community with authenticity. But, with lots of room to improve the coordination of colors between choir and orchestra, and with dancers from the Herrera Dance Project flanking the group on either side with trite choreography that could barely be seen, one has to wonder if the diversity at the center of a program is taken to be enough. The frequent lack of precision seemed uncharacteristic to this group, and with this particular program, precision and attention to detail would have gone a long, long way.