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Connecticut Master Chorale rekindles holidays in song

Published 6:06 p.m., Monday, November 19, 2012
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If you need a jump-start for all the festivities coming up, then make the Connecticut Master Chorale's Holiday Prelude Concert one of your annual traditions. With something for everyone, even a Grinch will come out with its heart pumped up a size or two after listening to this group's wonderful mix of seasonal music, presented each year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Hundreds of loyal listeners and a few new ones enjoyed the CMC's concert at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown last weekend.

CMC music director and conductor Tina Johns Heidrich seems to have the magic touch for finding new material for her group to perform. The 55 blended voices in CMC were joined by the ten-piece Holiday Brass band for about 15 heart-warming holiday tunes, with familiar mixed with new.

They opened with brass fanfare and percussion in the high spirited "Joyfully Sing!" by Brian Petersen, with balanced harmonies handled well by all sections. The band and singers were woven together in a shining arrangement of "Sweet Songs of Christmas" by Christopher Dedrick of the Canadian Brass.

May Steinberg provided a happy-go-lucky piccolo solo, along with Joseph Jacovino on piano in John Rutter's "Shepherd's Pipe Carol." They presented a primer for Thanksgiving with a portrait of Americana in the instantly recognizable sounds of Aaron Copland's "The Promise of Living," from his opera "The Tender Land."

Alto Nancy Northrup was featured in a lovely solo in "Judith's Land," arranged by Lawrence McCoombe. I know we're not in Salt Lake City, but you could close your eyes and imagine Mack Wilberg leading his choir as CMC sang "Gloria tibi Domine." With booming basses and well-tempered tenors, it's no surprise that Heidrch's arrangement of "Boar's Head Carol" sounded good. They closed the first portion of the concert with a medley of carols arranged by Theron Kirk, ending in a fully embellished rendition of "O Come, All Ye Faithful."

Following intermission, they went on an exploration, with three tribal tunes that combined cultures amazingly well, with drums and piano in "African Advent Carol" by Michael Barrett. Ethereal women's voices sang softly in the lullaby "Yoo, Yoo (Baby Won't Sleep). The rhythmic "Ogo ni fun Oluwa!" made me feel like I was in Nigeria.

Cindy Pena and all the sopranos were glowing in Andy Beck's "Light a Candle." I have to admire everyone's restraint for not dancing in the aisles as Heidrich shared her heritage with everyone in her arrangement of the bouncy "A Greek New Year's Carol." For 14 years with CMC, Murray Mast has made playing the steel drums look easy. The warm Caribbean sun was shining in "Calypso Noel" and the heat went up even more for "Pat-a-Pan Salsa," giving real freshness to the old tune.

Jacovino and the chorale were nostalgic and emotional in an elegant version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Drums and brass propelled them into a rocking finale with "He Drew the Line."

After 14 years, Heidrich and CMC have developed a distinctive finely polished sound and made many recordings of their performances. Last week when I heard them while listening to the radio, I was glad that I was going to see them again for one of the high points of the holidays.

Jan Stribula is a freelance writer in Ridgefield and can be reached at Janff@aol.com.