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MCC: Vienna Choirboys

Baldasarre Galuppi: Dixit Dominus
Max Reger: In Himmelreich ein Haus steht
Britten: A Ceremony of Carols
Johann Strauss, Jr.: Tales from the Vienna Woods
Mozart: Three Nocturnes
Beethoven: Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur (God's Glory in Nature)
Schumann: Zigeunerleben (Gypsy Life)

Vienna Choirboys
Jaume Miranda, conductor


You couldn't have asked for a more varied program than the one given Friday evening at the Civic Center by the Vienna Choirboys, one of the two or three greatest boychoir institutions in the world. The 22 young singers and their pianist-conductor Jaume Miranda sang selections ranging from the Italian Baroque to 20th-century English music. The program wouldn't have been quite so authentically Viennese without Mozart and Beethoven, of course, but what made it most Viennese of all was Johann Strauss, including a little one-act operetta in costume that was both delightfully silly and, because of the boys' age, rather touching.

The performance started with traditional fare, Baldasarre Galuppi's Dixit Dominus, which showed the absolute precision of pitch and ensemble for which this choir is legendary. Continuing forward two centuries into a late-Romantic work, the same delicacy shone forth in Max Reger's In Himmelreich ein Haus steht, which featured a quite difficult part for solo treble. Jumping on into our own century, their performance of the intricate harmonies and solo lines of Benjamin Britten's A Ceremony of Carols was, quite simply, a marvel.

After a short pause for donning costumes and rearranging the stage, the group presented the operetta Tales from the Vienna Woods, by Johann Strauss. The story involves a sage cobbler showing up a swindler-suitor so the officer and maiden can be married. There are lots of peasant-girl choristers, and the sight of these rather sober-looking boys in wigs and cotton dresses was hilarious. Although all the musical interludes were sung in German, the dialog was in amazingly clear English. The boy who played the cobbler Xandl had pronounced acting ability, as evidenced by his thoughtful but playful manner of being the wise "old" man.

After intermission, appearing again in their sailor outfits (so bright and white that when they bowed it was as though the stage lighting were dimming), they sang three Nocturnes by Mozart, and sang them to perfection. I was impressed by how clearly the great strength and solidity of Beethoven contrasts with the elegance and balance of Mozart in their performance of Beethoven's Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur (God's Glory in Nature), music one does not associate with youth. Continuing from late-Classical to early Romantic music, the choir next presented Schumann's Zigeunerleben (Gypsy Life), including folksongs and solos. It's one thing to sing in a choir when you're very young, but to be a soloist and stand alone out front to sing (I know this first-hand) is fairly daunting; these kids are pros, believe me: not a flicker of nervousness was to be seen.

Even more amazing was one of the encores, a solo performance of Schubert's great song, Litanei. Plenty of adults would pale at the thought of singing this especially demanding lied. But it was Johann Strauss who provided the bulk of the encores, including the waltzes A Thousand and One Nights and On the Beautiful Blue Danube, together with the polka Amid thunder and Lightning. To close out the evening, what could have been more endearing than the famous folksong, Edelweiss?

The house was jammed, and the audience was about as enthusiastic in its appreciation as any I've seen. The Vienna Choirboys are about to reach their 500th anniversary as an institution dedicated to the highest principles of musical art. One wonders if all of the many thousands of youngsters who've participated over the centuries could possibly have been as serious yet delightful as this group. It's forty years since I last heard them, and it was still a bit of a miracle.

Isthmus, March, 1992
Copyright 1992 Jess Anderson

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