BETHEL — To get into a holiday mood, the place
to be on Sunday afternoon was St. Mary’s Church. There the
Connecticut Master Chorale, under its founder and director Tina
Johns Heidrich, came to seasonal life. Its "Holiday Prelude Concert”
presented 17 different works, one of which had five parts to it!
Suffice to say, it was an overly full plate of choral offerings.
The vast majority of compositions were from contemporary American
or English composers. By the end of the two-hour program one wished
for more variety of style, perhaps some carols from other countries,
something from the baroque, maybe something even humorous.
There were two familiar Christmas carols. "Angels We Have Heard
on High” was presented in an arrangement, enjoyable with the
chorale’s unusually crisp delivery. "The First Noel” had Pachebel’s
"Canon” as counterpoint, delivered nicely by flutists Margie Aldrich
and May Steinberg. Clever it was, but I found myself flipping
mentally back and forth between the carol’s melody and Pachebel’s.
Ending the first half was the major piece on the program, "An
American Christmas,” a medley of American Christmas songs arranged
by Randall Stroope. It began and ended with the words of the carol
"O Come All Ye Faithful,” but sung instead to an Aaron Copland
melody. In between were four other tunes, including "I Wonder as I
Wander,” a North Carolina revivalist melody, and "Lord of the
Dance,” a Shaker hymn. (Copland used it in "Appalachian Spring.”)
Especially lovely was the solo of Patricia Alworth in "The Star
As predicted by Heidrich in her program notes, the final measures
of "An American Christmas” were spectacular. With increasing tension
and drive in the music, there came a sudden pause, then a blazing
fortissimo chord. With such intensity, it might well have served as
the concluding work to the concert.
The second half began with fascinating multicultural mass
segments. The "Kyrie” from New York composer Glenn McClure’s "St.
Francis in the Americas: A Caribbean Mass” brought the greatest
audience applause of the afternoon. Beginning with the sounds of
steel drums, it quickly moved into a pulsating Latin beat that was
completely infectious. (Maybe this whole concert mass for a future
Then came the "Sanctus” from that wonderful African mass "Missa
Luba,” which originated in the Congo and was first heard in the
United States in the early 1960s. The "Sanctus” was sung with great
tenderness, emphasizing the "call and response” of the native
traditions caught by the composer-priest, Guido Haazen.
Members of the Chorale have for three consecutive years won the
McDonald’s Gospelfest and spirituals have found a special place on
Heidrich’s programs. One of the three this year was a premiere
performance of a new work by the prolific Jay Althouse and dedicated
to the chorale. Entitled "Shout the News” (of the birth of the
Christ child), it was the centerpiece of the second half of the
concert. It seemed a modest work of its type, having come just
minutes after a wonderfully energetic performance of a gospel
standard, "Jesus, Oh, What a Wonderful Child.”
With so much music performed, I have mentioned those pieces that
stand out on reflection. The reader may have noted that I have not
yet said anything about the chorus itself. Well, it is all good.
Each chorister was totally responsive to the energetic Heidrich’s
bidding. The singing was always a pleasure to hear, the singers
blended perfectly, the pianissimos and fortissimos were always
controlled, and attacks were synchronous. Joseph Jacovino, Jr. and
the Chorale’s instrumental accompanists could hardly be improved
upon. All in all, it was a concert for Heidrich and the Chorale to
be proud of.