It was the Chorale's annual holiday concert. They opened their program with accompanying brass instruments in "O Clap Your Hands," by English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams. It had a fanfare flavor about it that ended with a climatic fortissimo that seemed to ask the audience if they were ready for what was to follow.
With the sanctuary filled and almost overflowing, the audience was ready and eager. The second piece, "All Things Bright and Beautiful," by John Rutter, was quiet and gentle, about as soothing as singing can get.
What was impressive about the day's total performance was the range of nuances and dynamics, combined with the precision of their delivery. Heidrich drew this and much more from her singers. Balances between sections and between chorus and accompanying instruments were perfect, and I could not help thinking: Here's a true clean-lean singing machine! The piano, brass instruments, violin, recorder, with steel drums and other percussion instruments throughout the program, also accompanied the singers.
"Shepard's Joy," by Michael Hayes, a Celtic flavored piece, featured May Steinberg on the recorder, and Kristen Schretzenmayer on violin.
It was a lively work with the two soloists effectively adding the right touch.
Tom Zarecki was the vocal soloist in the Spanish hymn, "Riu, Riu, Chiu." His was a dialogue with the other singers that was sung quite beautifully and convincingly.
"Carol of the Faithful," by Joseph Martin, ended the first half of the program. Based on "O Come All Ye Faithful," it was full of melodic and rhythmic snippets of that carol, woven into an attractive and effulgent new work of considerable radiance and charm.
After intermission there were some spirituals, gospel-blues style. In "Glory to the Lamb," one could hear a kind of boogie-woogie bass accompaniment. Then there was "Mary Had a Baby," for male voices alone, and "Balulalow," for women's voices, sung with a gentle hushabye quality that was mesmerizing. "Bidi Bom," by David Eddleman, celebrating Hanukkah, was lively and spirited, and ended with a surprise streak of loudness on a high pitch.
The concluding piece was the "Guadalupe Magnificat," by Glenn McClure, in four parts and using steel and snare drums. With calypso, rhumba and samba rhythms, a Latin American harmonic language, here is music with a vitality and effervescent energy that makes it difficult for the listener to sit still. Indeed, I saw audience members pulsating and weaving about during its rhythmic thrust. It is music of extraordinary beauty and originality. And a "bravo" must go to Murray Mast who was the steel drum soloist, and to the various vocal soloists.
The most rousing and fourth movement, "Suscepit Israel," was repeated as an encore.
Strange how musical tones have no actual nationality or religion. An atheist might compose the most profound "religious" music, and a religious composer may write the gaudiest secular music. What seems important is that singing is universal and belongs to all of us. To sing as the Connecticut Master Chorale does, makes it a universal joy for everyone who hears them. They make it a part of the finer things people do and love.