I heard Voices

and they weren't just in my head.

Voices is the name of Rochester’s newish professional chamber ensemble directed by William Weinert. He also directs choral activities at the Eastman School of Music, so I had high expectations Sunday afternoon when I walked into the Third Presbyterian Chapel on Meigs Street. It’s an acoustically live space bathed in colored light.

The group performed three pieces by French Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier. He lived in the days when respectable men wore wigs, stockings, and high-heeled shoes.

The first piece, Litanies of the Virgin, dates from the 1690s. Midway through this graceful and delicate work, baritone Malcolm Merriweather unleashed a solo, and I felt myself relax on a cellular level. Again and again, I was struck by the warmth and natural beauty of Merriweather’s voice. Every time he sang, I smiled. I couldn’t help it.

The second piece, The Denial of St. Peter, dramatizes Peter’s most human moment, when he betrays his friend and master, Jesus Christ. You probably know the story. Merriweather played the role of Jesus and tenor Pablo Cesar Bustos sang Peter’s lines, with the rest of the ensemble acting as a kind of Greek chorus to depict the protagonist’s bitter tears of regret. Bustos demonstrated striking expressive powers, flinging his big voice around like a cowboy champ with a whip.

The final piece, The Last Judgment, featured soloists singing the roles of God, angels, and the masses of the damned. This was highly stylized anguish, and I was struck by how comical it might seem to some of my friends to hear a bunch of people sing in such a controlled manner, “Alas! It would have better for us if we had never been born!” Members of the Black Lips would be gnawing at their guitars at this point. The role of God was sung by baritone John Buffett, a self-possessed singer with a full-bodied voice who half-convinced me he was, in that moment, Ruler of the Universe.

I’m happy to report that choral music in Rochester has reached new heights of sophistication.

Voices performs madrigals on October 28th at 4:00 p.m. in the same spot, Third Presbyterian Chapel, 4 Meigs Street, Rochester. It’s free. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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