ALLEN PINKNEY is a 12-year-old boy soprano from the Harlem Boys Choir, one of director Walter J. Turnbull's singers "who look like angels but are not."
Pinkney came close to singing like an angel Saturday, though, in a beautiful Mozart solo of a kind rarely heard here and just as rarely captivating a full Meyerhoff Symphony Hall audience.
Later, Pinkney sang, danced, rapped and felt the spirit with the best of them, his 34 cohorts from 9 to 18 years old in a spirited 2 1/2 hour concert. The program ran successfully from classical to rap, from blue blazers to raspberry blazers to colorful street clothes, from one hour of stock-still standing to swaying to dancing up a storm.
All the time, the kids practiced what one rap song called "the joy of singing," not always with understandable clarity. But "Feel the Spirit," the first half closer, was there each moment. The choir's musicality and energy easily surpassed those of a recent Vienna Choir Boys concert at the Meyerhoff.
When Pinkney was singing the "Laudate Dominum" portion of Mozart's Vespers, it was a tender moment of sweetness honoring Mozart's melodic lines as well as any child could. Fellow singers Avid Williams, also 12, and the two adults in the choir, tenor Jason Oby and bass-baritone Michael Bennett, were able solo partners in the Vespers.
Conductor Turnbull chose to open the program with two serious works, Adolphus Hailstork's "I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes," a three-movement contata with tenor Oby the major soloist, and four parts of the "Vespers." It was a good move, saving voices for the precision singing required and delivered. And it set up the later changing moods.
Hailstork's cantata was emotionally stirring in its three movements, from an opening movement of hope and faith to the lament "How Long" and the finale, "The Lord is my Shepherd, Alleluia."
Twenty songs and a piano solo by Eric Goldstein followed, including medleys from Gershwin and Ellington. High points were "Available to You," "Feel the Spirit," "It Don't Mean a Thing" and "Mr. Bojangles."
Even as the choir packed up with "Why Do People Go Away," the intensity kept building. This was one show that deserved the intense standing ovation it received.