Connecticut Master Chorale heralds in the holiday season
BETHEL — Holiday music always seems to sound better at the beginning
of the season. Riding in one of the first waves this year, the Connecticut
Master Chorale's "Holiday Prelude Concert" was one of the best we're
likely to hear. In their 9th season, they've cultivated their reputation
for consistent high quality choral work, and their ever grow following
filled the massive St. Mary's Church last Sunday.
They say timing is everything. -Music Director and Conductor
Tina Johns Heidrich knows how to take advantage of timing, from
traditionally choosing the Sunday before Thanksgiving, to the order
of the selections in the program, to the rhythms and tempi of the
tunes. Heidrich pays careful attention to a lot of details. And
she has a strong support group to draw from, with 55 beautiful voices,
balanced and blended to perfection.
They were accompanied by Joseph Jacovino, Jr. on piano and the
Connecticut Master Chorale Holiday Brass, a dozen solid musicians
that provided just the right touches for the chorale. They were
all in fine form throughout the concert.
Opening with lots of brass and plenty of oomph, they were crisp
clear in Richard Dirksen's "Welcome All Wonders." Simple but effective
Basque harmonies joined by some nice trumpet work and Jacovino's piano
formed an enriched texture for music set in heaven for the carol
"The Angel Gabriel."
Soprano soloist Cindy Pena's gentle voice was joined by May Steinberg
playing an ethereal recorder for the first portion of "O Come,
Come Emmanuel" by Steve Dunn. The energy shifted as the chorale
entered with simply gorgeous harmonies.
Anyone who ever had a dog got their hanky out for "Carol of the
Stable Dog" by Corlynn Hanney, a good a cappella blend of the vocal
You could almost hear the falling snow as the men sang the German
carol "Still, Still, Still." May Steinberg's flute sounded wintery,
while Sandy Chadwick's acoustic guitar gave warmth to the fireside
song. Conrad Susa's "A Christmas Garland" was a medley that felt
like a nostalgic stroll through a village decked out for the holidays.
After intermission they all came back with bounce in an exuberant
gospel tune "They Had Joy!" by Chris Machen, arranged by Tom Fettke.
Murray Mast on steel drums got everyone's attention for sure in
a couple of calypso Christmas carols, with bass soloist Edwin Kotchian,
sounding good in "Mary's Little Boy Child." These were the big crowd
pleasers of the day. Personally, "African Lullaby" by Ruth Elaine
Schram, with great piano and drums was goose bumps music, i.e. as
good as it gets. I don't know where Heidrich finds her material.
The women's voices worked their magic in a new arrangement of
the old chestnut "I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Kim Gannon and
Walter Ken, arranged by Mac Huff. Claudia Mickelson's clarinet
solo got everyone dancing in the risers for the Hanukkah song "Al HaNissim" by Dov Frimer, arranged by Joshua Jacobson.
They closed with a more than a bit offbeat version of "The Twelve
Days of Christmas," arranged by Bob Chilcott. They took the "five
gold rings" all over the musical map, with styles going from opera
to torch song to Broadway.
With her musical compass pointing straight up to the North Pole,
Heidrich came back for an encore with "They Had Joy!" one more time.
It's beginning to sound a lot like Christmas.