Ever since its founding in 1993, Choral Arts has been one of those rare elite choruses that inspire gratitude in their listeners and envy in their peers. Founding conductor Richard Sparks...

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Ever since its founding in 1993, Choral Arts has been one of those rare elite choruses that inspire gratitude in their listeners and envy in their peers. Founding conductor Richard Sparks chose real pros to make up his 28-voice ensemble (seven on each part: soprano, alto, tenor and bass), and the professionalism shows.


Hearing them again this past weekend in a varied holiday concert was a reminder of how good and how versatile Choral Arts is. From ancient carols and settings by such composers as Praetorius (1571-1621) to contemporary works by John Rutter, Morten Lauridsen and John Tavener, this is an ensemble that nails every style precisely.


The first thing you notice is the blend, remarkably clean and smooth, even when the sections subdivide in virtuoso repertoire. The choir’s calling card is its tone quality, full of life and buoyancy, an energy that almost always keeps the pitch from sagging.


The men have an especially rich sound, right down to the full-bodied low D in Lauridsen’s celestial “O Magnum Mysterium.” The women are never strident, even when they’re going for a high C in the terrific gospel encore.


None of this happens by accident. Sparks, who originally put together this ensemble for a program with the famous Swedish choral guru Eric Ericson, knows choral sound from the inside out.


He has been one of the Northwest’s most gifted and influential practitioners of the choral art, from his early days founding the Seattle Pro Musica to his 18 years as director of choral activities at Pacific Lutheran University. Now he serves as artistic director of Pro Coro Canada in Edmonton, Alberta, while he continues his work with Choral Arts.














Review


Choral Arts holiday concert with Richard Sparks conducting, and organist Paul Tegels; Friday night, Trinity Lutheran Church of Lynnwood (repeated Saturday and yesterday in different venues).


Last weekend’s holiday program alternated choral selections with organist Paul Tegels’ excellent interpretations of Bach’s “Nun komm der Heiden Heiland,” Raynor Taylor’s “Variations on Adeste Fidelis” and several other works.


There were familiar carols, intriguing new settings, and an audience sing-along that included a nod to Choral Arts’ Scandinavian origins with the Norwegian carol “Jeg er så glad.” (Plenty of concertgoers sang lustily along in Norse.)


This was not the kind of holiday concert where you hear “Jingle Bells,” in short. But it was clearly one that delighted the audience, which rose for a standing ovation.


There’s no mistaking this kind of quality: singing that thrills the ear.