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Vienna Conquers Chucktown

World's most famous children's choir as charming as ever

The Vienna Boys' Choir (VBC) and I go back a long way.

I was still a boy soprano myself when my family moved to Vienna in the 1950s — and the VBC was among the first of the myriad musical delights I experienced there. And I've missed no chance to hear them since. Their concerts never fail to inspire intense attacks of personal nostalgia.

And thanks to the Charleston Concert Association, my latest chance to wallow in their delightful singing came last Thursday, when they packed the Gaillard to the rafters.

To keep up with international demand, there are actually four separate choirs of around 25 boys each. At any given time, two of them are back in Vienna: either in training, or continuing their 500-year-old gig as the resident choir of the imperial court. The other two ensembles are on tour somewhere in the world.

The classic boy choir sound is like no other; girls' groups sound entirely different. Many think of boy choirs as flocks of sexless little angels — as in the ethereal sound of the English cathedral tradition. But these lads are of the continental boy choir school, which calls for more robust, chesty singing: still sweet and charming, but you know that real boys are at work.

And that's the kind of singing they delivered here — in music ranging from Renaissance-era motets to contemporary pop classics. 'Tis the season, so the program's first half consisted of holiday fare. Highlights included a brace of traditional European carols, like "Lo, How a Rose" and "O Come Little Children." They demonstrated their classical chops in "Natus et Nobis," a florid motet by Jacobus Gallus. Among the more modern material, "Mary's Boy Child" and "Winter Wonderland" stood out.

The second half brought us a choice assortment of motets, international folksongs, opera excerpts, and choral art songs. I particularly enjoyed Schubert's "Night Brightness" and "You Are Quiet Peace." Orlando di Lasso's antiphonal "Echo" was a catchy treat. Pop standouts were "Stormy Weather" and "Bridge over Troubled Water."

Minor gripes include a somewhat choppy delivery in a couple of the ancient motets — and "Arabian Nights," a perky Strauss waltz, lacked the laid-back Viennese lilt that I grew up with. Also their sound was a bit thin, but I chalk that up to the Gaillard's cavernous acoustics.

But, for a couple of sweet hours, it felt like I was home again. —Lindsay Koob

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