A Catholic musical leadoff to the season
By Frank Merkling
NEWS-TIMES ARTS CRITIC
BETHEL — Sunday’s program by the Connecticut Master Chorale
at St. Mary’s Church was called “Holiday Prelude Concert,” and it was indeed that.
Music director Tina Johns Heidrich had ransacked the boutiques and bazaars of choral
music and come up with all sorts of colorful seasonal pieces.
The boutiques came first; the bazaars followed intermission.
Heidrich does her homework with skill and dedication.
The music was all highly professional, and for a while it was inspirational — Mark
Hayes’ upbeat “This Is the Day the Lord Made,” Earlene Rentz’ up-from-a-hymn “Now Thank We
All Our God,” F.M. Christiansen’s a cappella setting of the hymn known as “Fairest Lord
Jesus” with a reedy soprano solo.
Next came an arrangement of carols, plus such modern touches as lush harmonization and
a “Silent Night” in 4/4 time, followed by John Rutter’s gentle, tastefully contemporary
“What Sweet Music.”
The boutique part of the afternoon was climaxed by Z. Randall Stroope’s three-part “Hodie!”
— brassy and eccentric rhythms first by the excellent orchestra, then a section
reminiscent of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” finally a triumphant anticlimax over a Bach
The bazaar part was terrific.
Heidrich, conducting with her customarily firm, fluent and shapely leadership, came up
with numbers from Wales, South Africa, Trinidad, the Ladino world and our own gospels.
Standouts here included a pair of clearly set and sung excerpts from a John Williams
movie score, nice work by the men alone and then the women alone (in “The Virgin Mary Had
a Baby Boy”) and a bouncily swung “Go Tell It on the Mountain” that was worthy of
This finale delivered what Heidrich’s program notes had promised: “to send you home on
a high note.” And the chorus covered itself with glory.