Don't Call Him 'Flum' to His Face

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A final post from music critic Lindsay Koob:

I hope that all the choral fans jam-packing the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul Saturday evening knew that they were witness to the end of a Spoleto era -- or at least part of it. After more than 30 years leading his Westminster Choir there, Dr. Joseph Flummerfelt will pass his baton, both literally and figuratively, to his yet unknown successor following his retirement last year from Westminster Choir College.

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We thought that had already happened, but English choirmaster Tim Brown - who stepped into his shoes last year - apparently took them back off again and flew the coop, for reasons we haven’t been told. But “Flum” (as his students affectionately called him behind his back) remains Spoleto’s choral director, and will continue to conduct the festival’s big orchestral-choral concerts. But barring unlikely new complications, this was his Cathedral swan song.

And what a song it was. The 40 young voices of the WC began their program with the spine-tingling choral purity of Thomas Luis de Victoria’s 400-year-old a cappella motet, Vere Languores Nostra. Then we heard a glowing account of Lobet den Herren, an exuberant and tricky motet by J.S. Bach, and a pair of short impressionistic jewels from Claude Debussy.

The Choir then digressed a bit, offering selections from both sets of Johannes Brahms’ beloved Liebeslieder Waltzes, before going on to some of the cream of American choral music. Four stunning pieces by Samuel Barber followed, including two selections from his Reincarnations. Best-known is “The Coolin,” the sort of sensual, yet gripping love-song we all wish we could sing. The lump in my throat swelled further during two nostalgic folk-settings by Aaron Copland - “Long Time Ago” is the one you’d recognize.

Thus ended the formal program - but our ovation got us three more pieces, including their time-honored encore, “Danny Boy.”

The human voice is the most intimate and personal of instruments, and when you can train forty golden throats (and the hearts that beat beneath them) like these to make music together under the guidance of one of the world’s true choral gurus, the result is pure sorcery. Think of any sound that vocal chords can make, from icy-pure near-whispers to seismic choral roars: we heard them all here. As all there who fancy themselves vocal connoisseurs can attest, it simply doesn’t get any better than this. Having devoted a goodly chunk of my life to choral singing, anything I may yet catch on Spoleto’s final day would be an anticlimax, after this.

- LK

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