His Majestie's Clerkes | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

His Majestie's Clerkes 

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HIS MAJESTIE'S CLERKES

The Swiss composer Frank Martin is a baffling curiosity. Largely self-taught--except for a brief period in Rome in the 20s--he was on the faculty of the Geneva Conservatory for much of his unheralded career. Also a talented keyboardist, he showed an affinity for French impressionism early on, writing neatly crafted works notable for their delicate coloring and piquant expressions. Then in the early 30s he belatedly switched to a moderate version of serialism, producing an almost as impressive--though often imitative--output high on dramatic gestures that recalled Schoenberg. He seemed to have regarded this period as his most original and creative. But now a major work from his earlier phase has been rediscovered and may enhance his posthumous reputation. (Martin died in 1974.) The Mass for a Cappella Double Chorus, written in the mid-20s, has been the talk of the choirmaster circle since it was published in the 60s and then premiered at a summer chorus institute in France. Martin, son of a Calvinist pastor, had been reluctant to have it performed because of his reservation about having religious music presented in concert. (One does wonder why he bothered to compose the mass in the first place.) When the mass came to the attention of Anne Heider, director of His Majestie's Clerkes, she was struck by its resemblance to Vaughan Williams's mass in its clever counterpoint and exotic rhythms. In concerts this weekend, the mass--which was given a well-received performance by the Rockefeller Chapel choir under the direction of Bruce Tammen on Good Friday--will be sung by the Clerkes, who join forces with the equally adept Chicago a Cappella, in a collaboration meant to do justice to the mass's thick texture. The program also includes the Clerkes in works by Byrd, Tallis, and Purcell, and their guests in spirituals and songs by west-coast composer Morten Lauridsen. Heider conducts. Saturday, 8 PM, Grace Lutheran Church, 7300 W. Division, River Forest. Sunday, 7:30 PM, Quigley Chapel, 103 E. Chestnut. 461-0723.

TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Wm. Burlington.

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