Canto General, by Mikis Theodorakis, based on
the poems by Pablo Neruda. Performed by the S.B. Master Chorale,
conducted by Phillip McLendon, with Téka Penteriche, contralto, and
Evan Hughes, bass-baritone. At First Presbyterian Church, Saturday,
April 1.

Reviewed by Gerald Carpenter

I have heard the Master Chorale perform the Canto General twice
before, so you would think that I would be ready for it — but no.
For the third time in a row, the piece ran over me like a
steamroller. I was crying after about a dozen bars.

Mikis Theodorakis’s music is like no other that I can think of
in its emotional force and its ability to rearrange my political
sympathies. From the first chord, the Canto pulls me into its
exalted sphere where the spirit of “liberty and justice for all”
lights up the firmament, where the aspirations and longings of all
people fuse and beat like a great heart.

The performance was everything I expected it to be — in a word:
magnificent. Maestro McLendon was at the top of his form, as well
he might be, since this piece and Orff’s Carmina Burana
are more or less his signature. As usual, the instrumental
ensemble — an eccentric one, with flutes, guitars, pianos, and a
variety of percussion instruments — played with superb skill and
cohesion. The marvelous chorus really got into it, many of them
swaying to the beat and beaming with joy as they sang their hearts
out about United Fruit and Emiliano Zapata.

Téka Penteriche has a gorgeous, husky, cabaret voice (she might
have put a little more force behind it). Evan Hughes’s rich,
evocative — 100 percent “classical” — bass-baritone made a
fascinating counterpoint to Penteriche’s emotional, populist
outpourings. (Not that Hughes’s singing lacked emotion — his
rendering of Neruda’s personal affirmation of party loyalty, “A Mi
Partido,” had cosmic resonance.)

I don’t think it gets us anywhere to bicker about what is and
what isn’t “classical music.” If Theodorakis wants to broaden the
base exponentially, then what happens next depends on the skill
with which he pulls it off. In Canto General, he succeeds

Finally, there will, inevitably, be those who say that politics
and serious music don’t mix. They have obviously never heard
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Opus 125
or his opera Fidelio; they were not paying attention when
they watched Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, or sat reverently through
Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. (“My subject is war, and
the pity of war; the poetry is in the pity. All a poet can do is


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