Music Review: Ringling International Arts Festival: Phyllis Chen

by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist, October 17, 2012

Much more satisfying were the singers in the Ensemble Basiani from Georgia. This chorus of a dozen singers sports some of the finest vocal musicians I’ve ever heard. Using little vibrato, they produced impeccable pitches that made perfect fifths and even minor seconds seem like the steppes of Central Asia. Choral singers know about staggered breathing: You breathe when the person next to you doesn’t in order to create a long phrase that one voice, alone, couldn’t possibly produce. These men were masters of this, and it enabled the basses, in particular, to produce an absolutely seamless pedal point that seemed to go on forever.

Their antiphonal singing, solo melismas and a couple of eerie but effective yodels on an open fifth — strangely reminiscent of European police sirens — added to their special effects throughout their performances of Georgian folksongs. Would that more vocal ensembles had that kind of control and musicianship.