Christmas with the Camerata Singers

Director John Koza

The annual Christmas With The Camerata Singers, on December 16, is a program not to be missed and this afternoon’s concert at First Presbyterian Monterey was no exception. Under artistic director and conductor John Koza, these singers continue to prove their choral chops. One of the two numbers that was not in English, Z. Randall Stroope’s Resonet in Laudibus, crisply started off the first half with terrific diction. Minimal instrument accompaniment was used to the greatest effect in support of a variety of the following pieces. The assured harp playing of Ruthanne Adams Martinez beautifully supported a number of pieces starting with Stephen Paulus’ Hallelu. Three more Paulus numbers throughout the afternoon also benefited from Martinez’ lovely accompaniment.

Martinez was joined by oboist Peter Lemberg on Paulus’ “Three Nativity Carols,” “Be Merry,” along with Kathy Kirkwood, flute and “Gabriel’s Message.”  Sometimes less is more, and the ensemble of these instrumental players along with the chorus enhanced in perfect balance. “He Is Born,” a traditional French carol, was sung in English with Donna Gartman Schultz’ arrangement including oboe and harp. John Tavener used William Blake’s “Little Lamb” to interesting harmonic effect. e. e. cummings gentle poem “little tree” was beautifully enhanced by Martinez’ harp in the setting by Steve Heitzeg. A standard of Christmas programs is Peter J. Wilhousky’s “Carol of the Bells.” This, again, showed off the crisp diction that is a hallmark of Koza’s direction. Finishing the first half was the second Paulus piece – “Three Nativity Carols.” Familiar carols “The Holly and the Ivy,” “This Endris Night,” and “Wonder Tidings” were included. Martinez’ flying fingers along with the gorgeous oboe of Lemberg deftly wove in and out of the chorus.

The third Paulus piece, “Be Merry,” opened the second half. Martinez and Lemberg were joined by the graceful and also assured flute of Kathy Kirkwood. This happy start to even more lovely and familiar texts set the mood just right. Norman Luboff helped popularize choral singing in the 1960s with popular tunes as well as classical repertoire. Luboff”s “Still, Still, Still” continues to be a choral standard. The fourth of Paulus’ arrangements was “Gabriel’s Message.” The sopranos and altos gently began with an underlay of Martinez’ harp. Tenors and basses took their turn before the full chorus reiterated, “Most highly favored lady, Gloria!” “The Seven Joys of Christmas” actually include familiar carols to extol the joys of love, bells, Mary, children, the New Year, dance and song. These time honored texts literally take the listener around the world using English, French, German, Burgundian, Japanese, and Spanish carols. It is a true pleasure to hear the entire set. Probably the least well known is the “New Year Song” which is sung in English but is a Japanese melody. Javier Busto set the traditional “Ave Maria” text with a decidedly contemporary flair that was a perfect lead in to “Betlehemu.” The Nigerian Christmas Song has an infectious rhythm supporting the gladness of a “Father to trust…to rely upon.” To add to the infectious rhythm, several chorus members provided rain stick, shaker, and several drums as accompaniment.

As the traditional finale, the audience was invited to join in “Silent Night” after the choir began with Daniel Brinsmead’s arrangement. For more Camerata delights, mark March 1stat St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Salinas, March 2ndand 3rdat First Presbyterian Church Monterey. There is still an opportunity until December 31stto contribute to Camerata through Monterey County Gives. Spring project will be Vaughan Williams’ “Dona Nobis Pacem.” This work includes poetry by Walt Whitman on the atrocities of the American Civil War. Proceeds will benefit the Veterans Transition Center.

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