"Their classically honed technique mixed with grit and all out passionate attack transfixes the audience, whether on Piotr Szewczyk’s “The Rebel” or Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes.”
by Gayle Williams, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Monday, April 23, 2012
The title “Mozart Meets Radiohead” has some shock value, but Key Chorale and the classical crossover string quintet Sybarite5 must have known that they share some youthful, musical rebelliousness, and that the concert would be a hit.
The contemporary classic crossover string quartet Sybarite5 performed with Key Chorale. COURTESY PHOTO
Key Chorale’s audience may not have known about the influential British alternative rock band Radiohead, named in Rolling Stone’s list of “The Greatest Artists of All Time.” But out of the box programs are the group’s signature and artistic director Joe Caulkins’ genius.
A large dose of the credit for the electric atmosphere of this concert also goes to Sarasota native Louis Levitt, double bass, musical entrepreneur and a driving force behind Sybarite5. His vision resulted in two arrangements of Radiohead hits, “No Surprises” and “Paranoid Android,” for chorus and string quintet. Both convey dark moods with obscured meaning, making them all the more intriguing. It is surprising how well the intent translates from the original electronic alternative rock to the comparatively staid choral world with string accompaniment.
Caulkins and his vocalists seemed as at home with Radiohead as they were with the “Versperae Solennes de Confessore” (Solemn Vespers) by a youthful Mozart. With plenty of contrapuntal textures as much in the Baroque style and as challenging as Bach, the Chamber Chorus managed well, although soloists, particularly soprano Lorraine Murphy, had to force themselves to be heard above the others.
Of the five sections, the Laudate Dominum with solo soprano and strings, and the boldly expressive Magnificat expertly performed to great satisfaction.
In a nice effect, the full chorus circled the audience in surround sound for Mozart’s beloved “Ave verum corpus,” but it revealed the weaker voices among them. The warmth and blend was much improved in the set of three songs beginning with the harmonically tangy setting of text by Robert Burns in James MacMillan’s “The Gallant Weaver.” Most notable was the trio of sopranos singing in canon holding their own with some devilishly tricky dissonances.
Neither Bob Chilcott’s pleasing setting of “The Irish Blessing” nor Ola Gjeillo’s “The Ground” (Pleni sunt caeli) presented anything radically new, but both had beauty in full measure. The latter even more so as it modulated to augment the upward gazing and exalting nature of the text.
Honestly, the unmistaken highlights of the program were pieces performed by the Sybarite5 alone. Their rock star status in the classical crossover world is well deserved. Their classically honed technique mixed with grit and all out passionate attack transfixes the audience, whether on Piotr Szewczyk’s “The Rebel” or Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes.”
All the more mesmerizing was “Turceasca” by Taraf de Haidouks (arr. Matt Van Brink) from an improvisatory taqsim through Arabic dance rhythms, ending in a jazz jam. To a note, Sami Merdinian and Sarah Whitney, violins; Angela Pickett, viola; Laura Metcalf, cello; and double-bassist Levitt, were perfection.
The resulting ovation was rewarded with one more sizzling number by Led Zeppelin. Yes, they were on fire.