Women's Chorus concert a joyous holiday event

It was damp and dreary outside but that didn't dampen the spirit of the season inside Walnut Hills Baptist Church, Tuesday, where sounds both thoughtful and joyous framed a holiday concert by the Williamsburg Women's Chorus and Choraliers and the Williamsburg Youth Chorale.

The event marked the inaugural program under the group's newly appointed artistic director and conductor, Rebecca Davy, a well-known organist throughout town and beyond who formerly sang with the chorus and still sings with its smaller ensemble, the Choraliers. The matching of Davy and her talent and capability with the group was a natural and rightful fit as heard in the evening's diverse program.

The centerpiece of the fare, and indeed, the work that opened the concert, was Benjamin Britten's traditional "Ceremony of Carols," which also featured the Virginia Symphony's principal harpist, Barbara Chapman. The 11-movement work has become a staple of holiday literature. Its melodies are a rich blend of haunting and jubilant emotions, rhythmic interest and creative vocal composition.

From the reverential procession (and recession), "Hodie Christus natus est," through the somewhat haunting "Yonge Child" and "Balulalow," to the upbeat "Wolcum Yole" and sensitively felt "There is no Rose," with its notable attention to dynamics, the chorus nicely shaped Britten's appealing work.

Special praise goes to Chapman, whose support was expectedly professional, sensitive and solid. Notable was the spellbinding solo harp "Interlude" with its sweeping landscape of soft, heaven-bound imagery. At Chapman's delicate fingers, the moment was magical.

The full chorus also provided engaging renderings of other seasonal themed songs, among them the popular "Shepherd's Pipe Carol," a cleverly arranged "Jingle Bells," and the all too brief "For Him all Stars have Shone," the group's lyrical attention to the work's soft, touching nature finding them at their collective best.

The Choraliers offered the most polished singing of this holiday fare, the smaller membership allowing a more complete hearing of the intricacies of vocal line balance, harmony and musical sensitivities. Attention to artistic detail was heard in its "Song of Mary" segment that featured "When Christ was born of Mary Free," "Maria through the Thornwood Came," and "So Fair and Bright," the first two providing flowing lyricism and the latter, joy.

The Youth Chorale, under Ann Porter, with piano accompaniment by Elaine Howell, brought charm and confident delivery to "I Saw Three Ships" and "Ring the Bells."

The young singers joined with the larger group for two works under its "At the Turn of the Year" section, a somewhat darkly conceived yet well sung "Snow" and the very cheerful and closing "Wisselton, wasselton." An audience sing-along rounded off the evening's delights.

Bravos to Christine Niehaus for her excellent piano accompaniment throughout the program and to Davy for her focused direction and programming of works, many of which went beyond the norm for such seasonal events and provided a thoughtful and different, even musically expansive, perspective on the sounds and spirit of the season.

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