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Concert Review

Solemn Vespers at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral

Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament
  • Orlando di Lasso: Magnificat
  • Gregor Aichinger: Ave Regina Caelorum
  • Olivier Latry: Six Improvisations on Lenten Chants
  • Assorted Gregorian Chants and Antiphons
Olivier Latry, organ
The Most Rev. Allen H. Vigneron, celebrant
Archdiocesan Choir of Detroit & Members of Our Lady of LaSalette Choirs/Joe Balistreri
Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Detroit, 19 March 2017

This is not your typical review, because it's unusual to "critique" liturgical services. This can – and is – done, though. Like the Nine Lessons and Carols of the Anglican tradition, Vespers in Roman Catholicism mixes readings and music within sacred space. However, it's not every evening that a parish – even the Cathedral of Detroit – can feature Notre Dame's own Olivier Latry. Continuing a proud French organ legacy, Latry is both a master improviser and deeply sensitive church musician. As part of the Diocese's cultural series, it was an absolute treat to hear him live.

Perhaps most stunning was his ability to take a completely foreign instrument and draw so many colors out of it. The organ at Blessed Sacrament has housed many excellent players, and is a fine instrument. Latry took great pains to explore its full range of expression, and while there were a few moments where it was obvious he was not as comfortable with it as he wished, the effects were deeply moving. Although he is a world-famous virtuoso, I was equally impressed by his ability to collaborate with Joe Balistreri's excellent singers. His accompaniments with chorus – and especially with the congregation – were wholly commendable. While it may seem odd to praise an organist for how he plays with non-musicians, I can tell you as a church musician myself that this is not an easy task, particularly in such an acoustic. As for his own solo contributions, these six pieces were musically interesting and fit the setting well. Only the recessional struck me as a little over-the-top (attendees were asked not to applaud, and predictably did so) but otherwise everything was in the very best of taste.

The Detroit Archdiocesan Chorus has performed with the Sistine Chapel Choir for Pope Francis, and are a beautifully blended group of musicians. The various chants and antiphons were perfectly paced, and so were the two gloriously sung motets toward the end of the service. There were signs of vocal fatigue from some of the solo singers, but Joe Balistreri deserves credit for cultivating such a terrific sound. On the liturgical end, His Excellency Allen H. Vigneron's sober, quiet personality was an ideal fit for what was essentially a service within a concert series. The congregation, which was near silent and surprisingly enthusiastic vocally, put the finishing touches on a wonderful and spiritually fulfilling afternoon.

Copyright © 2017, Brian Wigman