Sing Noel! Festive Music for Chorus and Orchestra
by William Thomas Walker
Except for the
first few rows, Hill Hall was packed with friends, relatives and diverse
townspeople for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Community Chorus Christmas
concert on December 15. The audience held very few familiar faces
from the regular concert season and ran the gamut from retirees from
Carol Woods to an occasionally grumpy baby and a lot more children
than is the norm. The stage held a solid ad hoc orchestra of experienced
free lancers, North Carolina Symphony players and more than a few
Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle regulars. Not surprisingly, Robbie
Link, bassist of many Triangle music ensembles, was an anchor, along
with chamber organist Marianne Kremer. All these forces and sets of
soloists were under the able direction of Susan Klausmeyer. I had
not heard this group previously but can now add it to the large number
of fine choirs available for the music lover in the Triangle--various
university and college choirs, civic choruses in Raleigh and Durham,
and director Rodney Wynkoop's several associated ensembles.
The concert opened
with an incisive performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's festive Magnificat
in D, S.243. This was somewhat "deja vu" as just a week
earlier I had reviewed another fine reading of the same work in the
same hall, directed by this performance's soprano II, Susan Klebanow.
She was joined by Patricia Donnelly Philipps (soprano I), alto Caryl
Price, tenor Dale Bailey and bass William Adams. The orchestra played
very well and, after a trace of strain on a few early high notes,
the trumpets executed some thrilling trills. Klausmeyer secured a
good balance between the orchestra and chorus. The diction of the
chorus was clear and its sound color reflected the greater maturity
of its members. There was a good percentage of high and low male voices.
When I first started attending concerts, most university choruses
tended to have too few men singers. Compared with last week's performance,
this concert's soloists had somewhat smaller voices but still managed
to fill the hall. Klebanow was fine in her solo, the first aria. Oboist
Lois Schultz had the first of many glowing solos in the first ensemble,
"Von Himmel hoch," which used about a third of the chorus.
Philipps had a nice ring to her high notes in the aria "Quia
respexit" (again with oboist Schultz), her duet with the Adams
("Virga Jesse floruit") and the lovely trio "Suscepit
Israel," which involved the other two women soloists. Adams'
large, lightweight voice easily filled the hall; I suspect he is in
fact a baritone, rather than a bass. Caryl Price was listed as an
alto but her voice is so light that I would consider her a mezzo-soprano.
She was fine in her aria, a duet with the tenor and in the trio. Tenor
Dale Bailey's vocalism was somewhat constricted but he conveyed the
Next came a rare
performance of Franz Schubert's Magnificat in C. The program directed
the reader to use the Bach text but, having heard some long-winded
Schubert pieces, I was unprepared for what was in effect, a "Cliff
Notes Magnificat!" Its three movements were listed as I. Allegro
maestoso (chorus), II. Andante (soloists--a solo quartet, actually),
an III. Allegro vivace (chorus). Well, I followed the chorus through
what seemed to be no. 4 of the Bach text in the first movement and
then, before I could find where the quartet of Philips, Price, Bailey
and Adams were, the Andante, which had an extended and moving solo
for oboist Schultz and strings, had ended! The piece concluded rapidly
with the martial sounds of "Gloria Patri et Filio
(no. 12 in the Bach) for full orchestra and chorus.
came after intermission with a superb performance of another work
unknown to me, Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Christmas Carols,
for baritone, chorus and orchestra. Bass Adams and the chorus had
clear diction which made it easy to follow since the text wasn't printed.
Several unfamiliar carols are used; the work opened with Virginia
Hudson's solo cello, which splendidly conveyed a feeling of the elegiac,
tinged by melancholy and nostalgia, that colors many of Vaughan Williams'
folk-influenced works, including this one. Hudson had a number of
prominent solos throughout, and her full, rich cello palette was apt.
by Fred Prentice of "Sing We Now of Christmas" was a pleasing
piece performed a cappella that showed the chorus's excellent diction
as different sections sang different portions at the same time, allowing
for considerable contrasts of both texture and color.
Large bongo drums
dominated the complex rhythmic accompaniment for "African Noel,"
arranged by Andre J. Thomas. The singers clearly had fun trying to
be "loose" but wouldn't be mistaken for a regular gospel
The audience was
invited to participate in the refrain of Conrad Susa's effective medley,
"A Christmas Garland," and did so with enthusiasm. The soloists--alto
Bette Roop, tenor William Kudros, baritone Mike Shannon and bass Steve
Lockwood--essayed various familiar carols that were in turn taken
up by the chorus. Of these, the tenor and baritone were the most effective.
Understandably the solo voices were not as full and did not project
as well as the professional soloists, and what they were singing didn't
always reach the whole hall, but the piece served as a perfect vehicle
to end the concert in holiday spirits.
Due to an atypical bit of overlapping programming, Triangle music
lovers recently had three strikes at Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on
Christmas Carols in two days, thanks to the Capital Area Chorale,
the Concert Singers of Cary, and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Community
Chorus. As it happens, Schubert's brief Magnificat was also done concurrently
in Cary and Chapel Hill. And, as William Thomas Walker notes immediately
above, Bach's Magnificat was given twice, in the same venue, just
eight days apart.]