Joseph Jacovino, Jr., was the accompanist, joined by a brass and percussion group.
Heidrich chose works as different in rhythm and form as the Nigerian carol "Betelehemu," with its African chant sequence, and the Canadian "Huron Carol," with its slow underpinning of tom-tom sounds. The capacity of the singers for beautiful tonal blending was notable in these simple, quiet pieces.
The chorale's well-known clarity of pronunciation was evidenced best in the upbeat, out-loud works. In fact, two of these seemed the real favorites of the audience from the intensity of applause. These works opened the first and second halves of the 95 minute concert.
Heidrich's own composition, "Christmas Awakening," set the concert going with a brassy flourish and the joyful command to "Awake and sing." The beginning and ending portions had a wonderful vibrancy, set off nicely by an inner portion of a cappella singing. The arrangement for brass and percussion was just right, never overwhelming the voices.
For the second year in a row, a composition by Glenn McClure was the hit of the Holiday Prelude. Last year it was "Guadalupe Magnificat." This year it was "Santo" ("Holy") from his "St. Francis in the Americas: A Caribbean Mass." It was sparked by sopranos repeating "Santo, santo, santo" and perky percussive calypso-type rhythms. After alternating loud and soft passages, it ended with a blaze of sound that brought cheers from the audience.
Incidentally, last month a recording of the complete mass, conducted by its composer, was released. For more information go to www.artforbrains.com. Isn't that a great Web site title?
From the 15 works performed, other highlights remain in memory. With Cindy Pena as soloist, Heidrich conducted jazz master Dave Brubeck's "Gloria" from his "Fiesta de la Posada." Its pulsating beats set toes tapping, including those of Brubeck's son Chris, who sat against the back wall of the church enjoying it immensely.
Instrumentalists gave special impact to several of the performance. Chorus members May Steinberg and Nicole Simmons turned into excellent flutists to give a special subtle flavor to the "Huron Carol." Clarinetist Claudia Mickelson, also a singer in the chorale, impeccably provided the vital Klezmer-like buoyancy to "Shalom," Israeli folk songs arranged by Sally Albrecht.
Heidrich chose a fitting finale to raise holiday spirits: "Christmas Flourish," an arrangement of four carols by Randol Alan Bass. Soloist soprano Patricia Alworth, along with the chorus, sang a lovely "Silent Night," while William Billing's "Shiloh" was given a particularly sparkling performance. But it was left to the sopranos to have the final note for the concert, one that reached into the heavenly heights, imitating the angels they had "heard on high."
It is always satisfying to see full houses at concerts, and there is a reason why such are common for the Connecticut Master Chorale: it is simply an outstanding chorus.