The Connecticut Master Chorale likes to get a
head start on the holiday season, with their Holiday
Prelude Concert just before Thanksgiving. They have
an added reason to celebrate this year as they kick
off their 10th anniversary season. Their decade
has taken them to places like the White House and
Carnegie Hall, under the musical direction of Tina
Judging from the packed house for their concert
at St. Mary's Church in Bethel on Sunday, the home
crowd appreciates them as well.
The program was full of familiar texts and tunes
in new surroundings. The presence of a brass and
percussion ensemble to accompany the chorale promised
a lot of fanfares and snappy rhythms and we got
them, sometimes to the point of cliché. There were
enjoyable discoveries, though, throughout the well-executed
The chorus is a well-trained group, with a rounded
choral sound and rhythmic precision. Words and vocal
heft were sometimes lost in the church's large space,
but the sound was generally well-blended and balanced.
Mack Wilberg's arrangement of "Carol to the King"
offered a military-sounding wind and drum underpinning
to the carol, and the ensemble built up effectively
to its climax.
Mark Hayes's arrangement of Luther's great "Mighty
Fortress" hymn gave it a syncopated treatment that
showed the familiar words in new relief. Here was
one of the places throughout the concert where the
singing struck me as careful rather than fully engaged,
but the group did good work on the piece. The gentle
phrasing of John Leavitt's "A Stable Lamp is Lighted"
was effective, and David Jurman's tenor solo was
expressive, if a bit hard to hear.
The tenor section as a whole was a bit underpowered
(as tenor sections often are) in Greg Gilpin's "Adeste
Fideles" for men's voices, but the singing was sensitive,
with May Steinberg's attractive flute lines winding
around the voices. John Gardner's "Tomorrow Shall
be my Dancing Day" was a highlight for me, with
its shifting meters and punchy rhythms applied to
this old carol. Words were clear and the singers'
enthusiasm was infectious.
Another pleasing moment was John Rutter's "Dormi,
Jesu", sung with a nice lit and a sweet sound, well
accented and with a good rhythmic pull. The gauzy
harmonies at the end made a lovely impression.
Less effective was Randall Bass' "Praeludium
Noel," a rather humdrum arrangement of well-known
carols, with an especially saccharine piano accompaniment
for the great English hymn "In the Bleak Midwinter."
Glenn McClure's "Veni, Veni Emmanuel" and "Silent
Night" were arrangements whose steel drum accompaniments
seemed incongruous, especially in "Silent Night."
Other ventures into foreign cultures worked better.
David Lantz's "African Christmas Spiritual" was
sung with expert attention to the words, over a
jumpy African percussion beat. Cindy Pena was a
clear, if somewhat faint, soprano soloist. "Japanese
Snow Song" featured simple harmonies with a subtle
Japanese tinge, and the chorale sang it stylishly.
A welcome novelty was an arrangement of the classic
"Blue Christmas" for women's voices, sung a capella
in an arrangement that smoothed out the edges and
added harmonic touches that didn't come from Elvis.
The chorale's nod to the Hanukkah tradition, "Torah
Orah," featured Claudia Mickelson's idiomatic clarinet
playing and an emphatic, spirited, smoothly-accelerating,
dance-like performance. Diane Wilkinson's gospel
number "That Little Baby!" had the full instrumental
ensemble rocking with the chorus in the chorale's
Heidrich led her forces with sensitivity and
flair throughout. She picks repertoire that the
singers can believe in and audiences can embrace.
Joseph Jacovino, Jr. was a dependable piano accompanist
and the brass and percussion players added spice
to the holiday mix.