How can you not love a Valentine’s Day concert that includes a number called My Bonnie Lass She Smelleth?
That less-than-romantic ditty was easily the most humorous selection in a nicely varied program presented by choral ensemble Schola Cantorum at the Kimbell Art Museum on Sunday.
Most of the tunes offered by the 22-member choir were the sort of romantic ballads to be expected in a concert named “Songs for Lovers.” But the comical My Bonnie Lass, attributed to the obscure Bach son, P.D.Q. Bach, was an example of why this concert was so engaging. Instead of just being a bunch of people singing familiar choral works, the performance featured interesting and unusual song choices, clever bits of staging, and just the right amount of humor.
The performance, led by Schola artistic director Jerry McCoy and associate conductor Robert Ward, was organized in deliciously bite-sized parts. They included titles like “Love Songs of Long, Long Ago,” “Love Goes to the Theater,” “Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow” and “Love Songs Your Grandparents Courted To.”
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Within those headings, a staggering number of composers were covered by the chorus as a whole or in smaller groupings. They included Claude Debussy, Billy Joel, Lennon-McCartney, Stephen Foster and Cole Porter.
There were many highlights. Sherylynn Porter and Karla Martin came through nicely in the famous opera aria Sous le dome epais, from Leo Delibes’ Lakme. A richly layered arrangement of the Beatles’ Michelle was a winner. And two of the numbers in the concert’s “Canciones de Amor” section stood out: one for its beautiful simplicity (Preguntale a ese mar) and the other (Te Quiero) because of its lovely, elaborate arrangement.
Few songs made more of an impression than My Bonnie Lass She Smelleth, which is actually the work of P.D.Q. Bach creator Peter Schickele, perhaps the greatest classical music comedian who ever cracked a note. Bonnie is an inspired parody of the English madrigal My Bonny Lass She Smileth, which Schola performed just before the parody version. That was brilliant because it allowed the audience to appreciate how Schickele can make you laugh with words or notes, while displaying a breathtakingly intelligent grasp of music theory.
Also of note was the piano accompaniment by Alan Burrato on many of the pieces, and the contributions made by Ward, who sang with the chorus, provided some nice solo work and conducted several numbers.
There were a couple of misses on the bill (did we really need Oh! Susanna and Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair?). But, on the whole, the performance was a thoughtful union of superb singing (the balancing and blending of the choir’s male and female members was especially impressive) and entertaining showmanship.
Schola reminded us that love is a many-splendored thing that sometimes enjoys a good joke.