by Daniel Hathaway
Summit Choral Society presented the first of three luminous Christmas Candlelight Concerts in Akron’s St. Bernard Church on Friday evening, December 18. The evening featured the adult Masterworks Chorale, a double brass quintet with organ, and two ensembles from its Children’s Choir Program: the Performance Choir and Advanced Choir. (The Intermediate Choir and Beginning Singing ensembles would rotate, each singing a set of their own on Saturday and Sunday evening.)
Marie Bucoy-Calavan, taking the reins for the Summit Choral Society’s 26th season, drew impressive singing from the 56 members of the Masterworks Chorale in the opening selection from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil and Daniel Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata.
The Rachmaninoff selection, Bogoroditse devo (Rejoice, O mother of God), began softly with ravishingly blended tone. After taking the Russian piece to a tremendous climax, Bucoy-Calavan expertly tapered the sound back to its original hushed timbre.
The Pinkham, written in 1957 for Lorna Cooke DeVaron and the New England Conservatory Chorus, is not so often performed these days. An engaging mixture of medieval and 20th-century musical styles skillfully scored for antiphonal brass, the piece wafts some fresh air into the Christmas choral repertory. Crisply led by Bucoy-Calavan, the Masterworks Chorale easily dispatched the catchy rhythms of the third movement “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” and the fine brass players sensitively held their sonic power in check.
When you field three choruses on the same program, there’s a lot of filing on and off. Two of those changeovers were covered by arrangements of carols for brass ensemble (Coventry Carol, Three Kings). Another, after the opening Rachmaninoff, gave Bucoy-Calavan the opportunity to talk to the full house (and when her microphone faltered, she did that with admirable carrying power). Yet another changeover was accomplished during an audience Sing-A-Long of the late David Willcocks’s setting of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.
Directed by Heather Cooper with Beth LeHoty at the piano, the Performance Choir — its 40 members accessorized by red scarves and neckties — opened their set with a clear, pure performance of “Wolcum Yole” from Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols. A string quartet from Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School accompanied Kim André Arnesen’s Cradle Hymn, then co-director Jacob Moore took over for a strong performance of Joshua Shank’s lovely Snow by Morning, whose last chord rang out thrillingly in the resonant acoustic.
For Phillipe Rombi’s I’m Dreaming of Home from the 2006 film Joyeux Noël, Bucoy-Calavan and the women of the Masterworks Chorale effectively utilized the space by having soprano soloist Claire Krupp sing from midway down the center aisle.
Close harmony versions of I’ll be home for Christmas, O Christmas Tree (both arranged by Michele Weir and led by choral conducting fellow Anna Ahrens), and O Holy Night (arranged by Ken Berg) were tastefully crooned by the Masterworks Chorale before they yielded the stage to the Advanced Choir, led by Emily Garlock. The 37 young singers began in French with Petit Enfant (arranged by Linda Miles Shaw and Dana Thompson) and ended in English with Brett Rhodes’ Amid the Cold of Winter, a mashup of Gustav Holst’s In the Bleak Mid-Winter and Michael Praetorius’s Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen.
Late in the program everybody got into the act with three tutti carols. David Willcocks’ Hark! the Herald Angels Sing involved both the Masterworks Chorale and the audience; Michael McGlynn’s quietly elaborate version of Silent Night brought four soloists (Colleen Miller, Shendyn Gasser, Peter Wright, and Jack Jennemann) literally into the spotlight in the darkened church; and Mormon Tabernacle Choir director Mac Wilberg’s snazzy arrangement of O Come, All Ye Faithful brought the evening to a festive conclusion with singers surrounding the audience.
By the last performance on Sunday evening, the not-too-long, not-too-short program will have featured all the singers involved in the Summit Choral Society choirs. There was something for everyone in this repertoire. Classical choral fans could enjoy Rachmaninoff and Pinkham, Anglophiles could bask in the eminently tasteful elaborations of carols made famous at King’s College, Cambridge, and those who are more attuned to popular or contemporary sounds could luxuriate in a range of highly accessible arrangements and newly wrought pieces. It all sounded especially festive in St. Bernard’s, which looks stern and Burgundian from the street, but dazzles the eye with the exuberance of its gilded interior, and the ear with its acoustical splendor.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com December 22, 2015.
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