Beautiful afternoon sunshine shone to invite all to the annual Christmas With The Camerata Singers on December 15 at First Presbyterian Church of Monterey. This was a program not to be missed. Under artistic director and conductor John Koza, these singers continue to prove their choral chops. A Koza hallmark is excellent diction, and even without the helpful program notes these singers continue to evoke the best in their programing. Koza is quite masterful at choosing repertoire for this season and group. Familiar seasonal favorites along side a couple of not often programmed selections made the variety just right. It is a great balance when a program has both known repertoire as well as introducing the not often heard.
This was especially evident in programming Magnificat by composers two centuries apart. This text has been widely interpreted and the contrast on this program emphasized that contrast. In the first half, 18th-century Francisco Durante’s Magnificat was in Latin and probably more traditional in feeling. The clarity of the opening text with women’s voices fairly floated as one voice before being joined by the tenors and basses. As accompanied by solid string ensemble and keyboard organ, the balance was clear and steady. The second half Magnificat in English was created by Gerald Finzi and readily demonstrated 20th-century styled dissonances. Again the string ensemble provided the solid underpinning. Vocally challenging but ably handled under Koza’s direction.
As the first half opened with a 12th century Spanish text, Annua Gaudia, set by a 20th century composer, J. David Moore, the percussive accompaniment set toes tapping. The choral staple, O Magnum Mysterium, as set by Thomas Luis de Victoria, followed in its loveliness. The delightful Il Est Né as arranged by Alice Parker is always a favorite. The lightness of the sopranos and altos imagined heavenly voices. The season would not be complete without Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols. The opening cello solo by Janneke Hoogland was a strong and assured beginning to this ever-popular collection of familiar carols. In addition to The Truths Sent From Above and Come All You Worthy Gentlemen, On Christmas Night and There Is A Fountain were presented together with women’s and men’s voices trading the melodies and singing them together. Rounding out the first half was Vaclav Nelhybel’s Estampie Natalis medieval dance for the birth. And dance it was with the strong string ensemble and percussion and joined by piccolo playing more notes than anyone can possibly imagine playing and not miss a lick.
The second half opening had a trio, Cindy Davis, Mark Stevens and Michael Russell, at the back of the church with voices soaring to the chorus at the front on the traditional Coventry Carol. Three of the most heard and popular selections from Villancios de diuersos Autores; Dadme albricias hijos d’Eva, El a Don Don! Verges Maria, and Riu Riu Chiu, as arranged by Noah Greenberg followed in all their delight. Soloists included Stevens, Scott Wilson, Brian Jacobson, and Russell. Making use of Latin and English texts, Joy Sherman’s arrangement of Blessed Be That Maid Marie also describes familiar themes of the Christmas season. Healey Willan’s arrangement of Hodie Christus Natus Est is another solid staple of Advent and Christmas programs. Rounding out the program was In Silent Night by Mitchell B. Southall. The lovely gentle opening lovingly describes the scene and sets up the music for audience to join in. The Silent Night sing along is a tradition started long ago by Dr. Vahé Aslanian and continues. Koza’s take is to use another version to set up the traditional to great effect.
Joining in as support accompaniment was the solid string ensemble made up of Tyler Reilly and Chandra Allen violins, Miran McPoland, viola, Janneke Hoogland cello, Stephanie Payne bass, Stuart Langsam and Michael Barnes percussion, and George Peterson, organ and rehearsal pianist. Never one to rest on laurels, Koza is programming Considering Matthew Shepard March 6, 7, and 8. This will be an area premiere and is definitely not to be missed. Voluntary proceeds will benefit Harmony at Home.