The holiday spirit was in full voice Saturday during the Williamsburg Women’s Chorus “Home for the Holidays” concert, under the direction of Rebecca Davy, in the Williamsburg Presbyterian Church.
Far from being a Hallmark program heavy on sentiment or melancholy, as the program’s title might suggest, it was fare that represented music from the baroque to the present, much of it uplifting. While many of the titles were familiar, the arrangements were not, which added interest to the music making.
Before details, accolades go to Christine Niehaus, pianist, whose keyboard work was exemplary, supportive and superb.
In all cases, the selected songs touched on the Christmas season and its many emotional aspects, starting with the “Magnificat” of Nicola Porpora. A celebration of the spiritual side of Christmas, the six-part baroque work was appropriately uplifting with its layers of sound spread among the 45 voices. It’s not an easy work, challenges coming from the intricacy of the individual, interacting vocal parts which were not always distinctly delineated. Nonetheless, the overall presentation was fine, with the upper sopranos holding their own in upper stratospheric moments.
On a less lofty level but certainly ethereal one was Z. Randall Stroope’s setting of “There is no Rose.” Lyrical and thoughtful, the work is quite beautiful and was it sung here, the balance among voices particularly lovely with careful diction and delicacy.
Equally so was “In the Bleak Midwinter,” set to the beautiful poetry of Christina Rossetti. This Michael Trotta arrangement, though, was not the Holst rendition usually heard. With excerpted lyrics and a distinctly different sound, the emotional impact varied not the least. Trotta has applied an exquisitely lyrical touch to his work and filled it with rich harmonic textures and flowing lines. It’s delicate, gentle and sweet, which qualities the chorus delivered in full.
A particular note concerning oboist Victoria Hamrick who performed in both the Stroope and Trotta: her playing was moving, notably lyrical and highly articulate, showing a richness of tone that added immensely to the intimate feelings expressed in these two works.
Canadian composer Laura Hawley’s contribution to the fare was her “Carol Trilogy,” based on an ancient French carol, “Noël Bourguignon,” sung in French; the German favorite, “In Dulci Jubilo,” sung in German and Latin; and the traditional English carol, “Wexford Carol.” “Trilogy” is a charming work of vocal intricacies in its layering of vocal sounds and interesting, cleverly designed piano lines that added to the pleasure.
The Choraliers, a select group of 11 from the chorus, including Davy, delivered the evening’s most balanced and nuanced sounds, everything notably pure, clean and particularly concise in execution. From the upbeat “Chauntecleer” and flowing “What Sweeter Music” to Trotta’s a cappella “O Come Emmanuel,” the latter with a rhythmic energy set against the traditional vocal line, the group was splendid and solidly musical.
Sprinkled throughout the program was Davy at the organ in a jolly “Sleigh Ride” and a carol sing for the audience of “Jingle Bells” and “Dreidel Song.”
Prior to closing, the Chorus continued its fine singing with another a cappella work, “Caroling, Caroling,” a spirited “Bright the Holly Berries,” and an “Chanukah Song.”
Following these, the chorus was joined by singers from Berkeley Middle School in the upbeat Ukrainian folk song “Sleigh Bells” and a delightful and witty “Christmas … In About Three Minutes,“ snippets of 23 carols layered on top of each other allowing a solid three minutes of joy that extended well beyond that in this delightful program.
Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for over 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."