Long before the Paranjoti Academy Chorus of Bombay had finished its lengthy, demanding, entirely memorized and a cappella American debut concert Sunday night at the Unitarian Community Church in Santa Monica, one thing was clear: these nominally amateur musical ambassadors convey a powerful artistic and humanitarian message, to which any professional group might proudly aspire.
Music of Bach, Morley and Kodaly stood beside folk songs in Basque and Polish, liturgical settings in Latin, American Negro spirituals and works by Indian composers Victor Paranjoti (chorus founder), Nariman Wadia and Vanraj Bhatia.
For the 34-member chorus, singing is hobby rather than profession. Though the vocalism proffered individually is far from flawless, the musical and emotional final result adds up to far more than the mere sum of the parts providing it. If the collective sound is rarely pure, it is always energized and vital.
The chorus, in existence 30 years, has been honed into a superbly responsive instrument that performs music of the greatest difficulty or utmost simplicity with equal devotion, sincerity and command.
Conductor Coomi Wadia seems to wield a magic wand rather than a baton, so economical and unobtrusive are her gestures. The least of these produces instant results, particularly in dynamics.
Program highlights were a virtuoso reading of Kodaly's double chorus "Jezus es a Kufarok," in Hungarian; composer Wadia's jazzy narrative poem "Jalakamaladala"; Ernst Toch's "Geographical Fugue," a Sprechgesang tour de force; Bhatia's cantata "The Six Seasons" (Monsoon and Harvest are the extra ones in India); Paranjoti's rhythmically intricate, whole-tone scale "Syrinx" Rhapsody; and an irresistibly ebullient, idiomatic reading of "Joshua fit de battle ob Jericho" to challenge any Southern American choir.