Chorale brings holiday cheer
BETHEL -- The Connecticut Master Chorale's annual Holiday Prelude Concert has become one of the high points of the season. We're fortunate to have Music Director and Conductor Tina Johns Heidrich and her gifted musicians share their talent with us, helping lift our spirits with song.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving has been reserved for their performances for the last eight years. Let's hope for many more.
At St. Mary's Church, Heidrich and her 55 superb vocalists were joined by accompanist extraordinaire Joseph Jacovino Jr. on piano, and the fine sidemen that made up the Connecticut Master Chorale Holiday Brass.
This year's concert featured a multi-ethnic collection of songs from about a dozen different countries. Selection and arrangement of new material seems to be one of Heidrich's fortes.
The bright and uplifting "Sing Noel," by Brent Pierce, was a good start for a great show, sending a wave of sound passing back and forth across the sanctuary.
The 15th century English carol, "Lullay My Liking," featured soloists Edwin Kotchian and Cindy Pena in a wintry lullaby. With a whispering chorus and Jacovino's light touches on the keyboards, you could almost see snowflakes in the moonlight.
Trombones were singing along with the solid bass section in a Swedish folk melody "Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers," by K. Lee Scott.
The Catalonian carol --"What Shall We Give?" -- demonstrated Heidrich's highly effective blending of voices, without any individual in the spotlight, but with the entire ensemble taking center stage.
Flutist May Steinberg sounded jazzy with the Holiday Brass improvising a little bit in the French carol "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence." The cool fade out with the chorus repeating "Keep Silence" and the flute saying goodbye worked well here.
I was happy to hear the Czech folk tune "Zither Carol." This peppy waltz gave the four sections a chance to bounce off each other, like at a holiday party.
"Rejoice! "" Christmas Songs," arranged by Gwyneth Walker, gave new renditions to some old chestnuts, filling the tabernacle with good energy. Walker was happily able to attend the presentation of her piece.
Steel drums, bongos, electric bass, and brass gave a bouncy accompaniment to the West Indian "The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy." In the controlled mayhem, there was a bit of an imbalance between the Chorale and the instrumentalists.
"'Round the Glory Manger" brought back Kotchian with his clear as a bell bass voice in an a cappella arrangement of a spiritual that had tight entrances and exits by the group.
The African prayer lullaby, "Allunde Alluya," had soft drums, and delicate dynamics building and fading. This was another one of those tunes you didn't want to end. A Brazilian version of "Psalm 150" had rapid-fire Latin outbursts, with precision articulation by all.
They saved some of the best for last with Neil Ginsberg's arrangement of "Hanerot Halalu" (translated "We kindle these lights"). Claudia Mickelson played a dazzling klezmer clarinet solo in this traditional Hanukkah song.
After warning everyone to hold onto their seats, Heidrich brought the curtain down with the gospel powerhouse "Something to Shout About!" by Sherri Easter. Totally energized, she was dancing along with the Chorale, cruising on all cylinders, with the audience clapping until they all did it one more time, a couple of times. It was one of those concerts you didn't want to end.
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