Baltimore Sun Review: Schola Cantorum Coralina, November 1

November 1, 2012

Cuba's Schola Cantorum Coralina makes impressive U.S. debut in Annapolis

As advance bands of Hurricane Sandy were just beginning to pelt Annapolis Sunday afternoon, a small, hardy group of music lovers gathered in St. Anne's Church to hear a concert by an exceptional choir, Schola Cantorum Coralina. Maybe next time there will be a full house.

The ensemble, founded in 1993, has traveled to several countries, but one place has been absent until now from its itinerary -- the United States. That's not too surprising, given that Schola Cantorum Coralina makes its home in Cuba.

There's something encouraging about the group's arrival, 50 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Relations between our governments may not have softened all that much over the decades, but we are surely at a better place these days. And a visit from such spirited ambassadors has got to be good for all of us.

This choir's 17-trip is part of the Serenade International Choral Series organized by Classical Movements, a Virginia-based firm best known for handling travel arrangements for orchestras and other ensembles.

Led with infectious enthusiasm by founder Alina Orraca, who often got into the act herself, the 20 singers of Schola Cantorum Coralina demonstrated a good deal of character, not just technique, in a wide-ranging, nearly all-a cappella program.

The classics on the first half of the concert yielded several highlights, including gorgeous pianissimi in Byrd's "Ave verum corpus" and beautifully shaded phrasing in Poulenc's "Salve Regina."

The bulk of the program was devoted to 20th (and 21st) century Cuban and other Latin composers. Many of the selections were from the pop side (and a little repetitive in style); these brought out some of the most energized music-making of the afternoon.

Sturdy pitch, clarity of articulation and smooth blend between sections were in evidence throughout. Individual voices, in the many solos, were sometimes a little less refined in tone, but irresistible in phrasing.

The many delights included a wild romps through Roberto Valera's "Ire a Santiago" and Oscar Escalada's "Tangueando"; and subtly sensual accounts of Gonzalo Roig's "Quiereme mucho" and Miguel Matamoros' "Triste, muy triste."

I didn't I'd ever listen to "Guantanamera," the Joseito Fernandez standard, without squirming a little. I guess I just never heard it performed as tenderly and unaffectedly as it was here.

The versatility and vibrancy of the ensemble had abundant room to shine in two virtuoso items by Guido Lopez Gavilan, "Que rico e" and " La Aporrumbeosis," which found the choristers producing a wild assortment of sound effects.