Most classical music groups have adjourned by late spring. After a flush of season finales in May, there suddenly falls a lull for music lovers, doldrums really. But recent years have witnessed one notable ship tacking to a different trade wind. I’m talking about that 18-voice wonder known as Adelfos Ensemble, directed for the past six years by early-music expert and brilliant tenor Temmo Korisheli. Last June, Adelfos sang an exciting program of early American music, diverse in content, dense in substance, bright in execution, educational, ever surprising, and totally original. And this year’s June bloom went even further, with a fascinating program titled O’er the Stormy Ocean Tossed: Choral Songs of Seafaring, Adventuring, and Calamities. What makes Adelfos so outstanding is partly the high skill set and musical maturity of its singers, many of whom are soloists and section leaders with other groups in town. They pull off the harmonic heavy lifting of tight intervals and funky key shifts with seemingly intuitive ease. But the group also owes much to Korisheli’s bold thematic programming, scholarly breadth, and leadership skills, which guide singers to master some very tough music. If there is one disappointment about Adelfos, it is only that they do not share more broadly what they so painstakingly prepare, season after season.
The 17 pieces sung on Tuesday ran the gamut from the rich renaissance brocades of Thomas Weelkes and Giaches de Wert to works by modern Finnish composer Jaakko Mäntyjärvi and virtual choir superstar Eric Whitacre. Part of the fun was the shuffle itself — the music was not arranged in any neat chronology and was refreshingly varied with subgroups and soloists. This concert also included apt instrumental accents by Jane Hahn on flutes and pennywhistle and Laurie Rasmussen on harp. One of the bright moments early on was Vaughan Williams’s The Infinite Shining Heavens, which was sung by the women and shimmered like the stars described. Ascendente Jesu in naviculam by de Wert was a beauty of layered complexity and revolving canons, pure harmonies held with immaculate straight tones. As Is the Sea Marvelous, with its soaring chords and swirling undercurrents, seduced with Whitacre’s irresistible ear. Bruce Sled’s Shimmering Water took the title’s two words and broke them into scat syllables, painting a surface of fragments and repetitions that undulated. But the climax of the evening was the monumental Canticum calamitatis maritimae by Mäntyjärvi. Framed in Meghan Joyce Tozer’s haunting off-stage vocal line, the piece included tenor chanting (Bryan Lane) above medieval-like drone, wisps of Irish melody, and thrilling ensemble climbs during which Adelfos proved its harmonic chops.
But for any who have followed the group from the start, the most charming moment of Tuesday night’s performance had to be the muscular heave-ho of the Irish sea shanty “Whup! Jamboree,” sung by the men and harking back 10 years to the group’s brotherly beginnings as an all-male chorus