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Friday, August 30, 2013

David Griggs-Janower: In Memoriam

Soft Stillness and the Night Dept.: After repeatedly running into David Janower at P.D.Q. Bach concerts in Manhattan, it only seemed right to collaborate when he presented his own concert of Peter Schickele’s delightful discoveries around 1985. It was my only time singing among the frighteningly good members of Albany Pro Music, and it was the first time that Tom Savoy and I performed (singing the P.D.Q. Bach “Twelve Quite Heavenly Songs”) with someone other than Tom at the piano, something we thenceforth pursued in our cabaret shows. But to say we owe that to Janower is to risk minimizing the man’s incredible contributions to the musical life of the Albany area – contributions in many concert halls, at the university where he taught, and in the lives of the countless people he trained, encouraged, or otherwise influenced. His passing leaves an unfillable void. I offer the review below as but one example of the many times I had the pleasure of reviewing his ensemble.


David Griggs-Janower
Photo by Gary Gold
THE VOICES OF ALBANY PRO MUSICA are pushed into precarious realms, unsupported by any instrumental forces, then cruelly manipulated by founder/conductor David Griggs-Janower. The result is the most sublime singing you'll hear in this or many another area.

Like any skilled ensemble, they can venture into areas of the repertory that leave the merely adequate far behind. Unlike many ensembles, they continue to grow and explore. We in the audience reap the bounty of this, especially this time of year when music is cheap and shopping expensive.

Last night’s concert at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady was a virtuoso job gorgeously done, a program that was as much about vocal texture as about Christmas.

“In Silent Night” is the title of the group’s latest recording; it’s also something of a signature song that ended the program. And, fittingly, it was applied to the program itself. Except for a few much too enthusiastic coughers in the audience, the stillness of the large hall was a canvas upon which vocal colors were applied.

The chorus numbers about sixty but the size, thankfully, isn’t something behind which lesser voices hide. Janower uses that size for dynamic shading, as in Daniel Pinkham’s “The Kings and the Shepherds,” in which contrasting moods are established from section to section, or in the slow crescendo of Healy Willan’s setting of “The Three Kings.”

Seven sets comprised the program, each a little suite of songs that were juxtaposed for both musical and literary effect. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which opened the concert, is an arrangement that lends a slyly modern feel to a Gregorian Chant, and this kind of duality was shared by a number of other pieces on the program.

The first half featured works in English or Latin or a combination of both; in the second half texts in German and French were added. Diction is another of Albany Pro Musica’s strong points; you hardly need the lyric sheet that is made available.

A group like this likes to show off a little, too; “The First Nowell” is a song we’ve all sung, but not like the Stephen Paulus arrangement, which fit complicated countermelodies into a seamless setting.

Only an ensemble with a keen sense of harmony and dynamics could produce as lovely a finish to a song as was done with “O Jesu, all mein Leben”; likewise, the group can intone a tough first chord such as begins Randall Thompson’s “The Best of Rooms” with ease, a credit both to them and to Griggs-Janower.

Following the peaceful finish of “In Silent Night,” the audience of several hundred was treated to a round of familiar encores sung with a dignity and skill I’m afraid we’re not going to hear anyplace else in the next three weeks.

– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 10 December 1990

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