On Sunday, December 7 we had a dark and stormy night with the wind howling and the rain pouring a rhythm of it’s own…..oh wait….that’s another story line. Although dark and stormy, the warmth of the Carmel Mission Basilica and the sounds of I Cantori di Carmel along with Monterey County Pops Brass warmed the hearts and spirits of all who ventured to hear this wondrous program. The chorus under the direction of Cyril Deaconoff along with the brass under the direction of Carl Christensen brightened the evening with the familiar of the season along with original works by local composers.
Deaconoff’s A Northern Tale, with lyrics by Nikolai Kliuev, presents themes and images of Russian folklore. The opening fluid background sounded as the wind through a forest of trees to beautifully set off the clearly soaring solo of Jody Lee, soprano. William Gee’s Leaves Fall in Autumn with lyrics by local poet, Barbara Bullock Wilson, was based on Handel’s Sarabande. A former member of I Cantori, Gee originally scored for brass and then it morphed into brass, organ, and chorus to great effect to end the first half. Also included in the first half were more familiar works. What holiday season would be complete without John Rutter’s Gloria? This perennial choral favorite was enhanced by the more than solid brass to lifts hearts. Soloists included Lee and Kathryn Smith, sopranos, along with Astrid Holberg, alto. Brass and percussion let loose on the Robert Hobby arrangements of He Is Born and Go Tell It On The Mountain to delightful effect. Originally parts of Holy Light, and intended as a candle light service, these two selections were perfect additions to this evening. Another staple of chorus holiday offerings is Richard Rodney Bennett’s What Sweeter Music. Indeed “what sweeter music” could there be for the birth of a king?
As the first half started with the rousing brass Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, the second half began with Angels We Have Heard On High! There is just something wonderfully uplifting hearing brass playing familiar carols. O Come All Ye Faithful as adapted by Jacob Naverud and arranged by PTX and Ben Bram was not the usual midnight mass version. This decidedly upbeat version as sung by the group Pentatonix was a delight to hear. Arvo Part’s versions of Bogoroditse Devo and Da Pacem Domine had the choir switching from Russian to Latin with ease to recreate Part’s signature bell-like atmosphere. A definite WOW setting of How Can I Keep From Singing? by Gwyneth Walker had terrific brass, percussion and keyboard accompaniment. Part of what made it terrific was the good vocal instrumental balance. The Robert Shaw Alice Parker arrangements of myriads of choral works include the popular Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.
Anton Bruckner’s Virga Jesse was a good programming contrast in its simplicity along with surprising dissonances. Sixteenth-century Luca Marenzio’s contribution to the program was O Rex Gloriae. Although the text befits the Easter season, the style as well as message fit the overall expression of the evening’s offerings. With keyboard accompaniment by the well-accomplished Cindy Chen, Hector Berlioz’s L’Enfance du Christ offered a gentle version of the scene of shepherds’ farewell to the baby Jesus. Another Parker/Shaw arrangement was Touro-louro-louro by 17th century composer Nicolas Saboly. As arranged, there is a charming dialog between the men’s and women’s voices. A weary traveler who is in search of the Christ Child and finds the stable is overcome with reverent joy. Canite Tuba by Donald McCullough was a most fitting “pull out all the stops” ending to the evening. Incorporating brass, with accent on tuba, percussion and organ accompanying the strong I Cantori ensemble of voices, many moods were displayed to grand effect.
The brass and percussion ensemble under Christensen’s direction provided a thorough underpinning to the setting, music selections, and voices. Another delight of I Cantori di Carmel programs is the program notes. Translations as well as composer background make for an education along with the entertainment of well-rounded programing. Kudos to the continuing excellence of this local group keeping up the tradition started long ago with Sal Ferantelli.