Voices, the community chorus of Chapel Hill, under the baton of the gifted maestro Sue Klausmeyer, presented the first of two performances of its annual Christmas concert titled – what else? – "The Sounds of Christmas." The concert featured many familiar carols you might hear in the mall or the grocery store over loud-speaker systems. Many of them were the choices you would put on your CD player at home while wrapping presents, trimming the tree, or eating Christmas dinner.
The program began with a medley of English folk carols arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams: "Fantasia on Christmas Carols." The baritone soloist was Bobb Robinson. His rich, powerful voice, projecting over the chorus’s sung vowels, sounded melded with the lush strings. Vaughan Williams gave us rich and elegant music. Voices responded to Klausmeyer’s leadership with stylish and quality singing.
John Rutter’s lovely "Nativity Carol" was next on the program, followed by "Jesus, Jesus Rest Your Head;" a touching manger lullaby arranged by Barlow Bradford. "The Holly and the Ivy" was performed in an arrangement by Jonathan Willcocks. All the selections in the concert were enriched by opulent orchestral accompaniment provided by concertmaster Tasi Matthews and an ensemble of fine local musicians, with Deborah Lee Hollis providing first-class and stylish piano support.
Rutter’s arrangement of Handel’s "Joy to the World" almost out-Handels Handel; the trumpet work of Evan Atherton brought sparkle to this favorite Christmas hymn of joy. Gustav Holst’s "Christmas Day" is another weaving together of old carols, primarily "Good Christian Men Rejoice" and "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen." His quodlibet style of combining the carols is effective and delightful and was very well realized by the chorus and guest soloist Robinson.
The audience sang two selections about angels in attendance at the Christ-child’s birth (A message here? Audiences certainly can be angels of the arts.) The selections were "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" and "The First Nowell," both arranged by David Wilcocks. The audience, I must say, gave enthusiastic and creditable performances.
Voices wrapped up the first part of the program with a jazzy, syncopated and boisterous arrangement of "Jingle Bells." It was great fun.
After intermission, the spirits of Andy Williams,Bing Crosby, and Judy Garland hovered over the music, but the performances were all the Nelson Riddle orchestra and Anita Kerr singers. "It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" in a choral arrangement by Alan Billingsley started things off. "African Christmas" arranged by Andre Thomas is an African-American spiritual celebrating the coming of hope. It featured the drumming of percussionist Juan Alamo. "Christmas Time Is Here," Vince Guaraldi’s immaculate expression of naïve hope, was beautifully done in a choral arrangement by Robert Sterling. Bill Kodros sang, with longing and nostalgia, the seldom-heard verse leading into "White Christmas, and the chorus continued with affection and class a very fine arrangement of this magical Christmas classic.
"Silver Bells" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" brought many memories and warm feelings. Jennifer Canada’s soprano solo in the latter was an exquisite send-off, concluding what was a delightful warm-fuzzy concert. Having experienced "The Sounds of Christmas," many an audience member left Hill Hall with smiles on their faces and a lightness in their steps and geared up for the joys of the season.
A repeat of the program will be on Saturday, Dec. 14 at 8:00 p.m.in Hill Hall on the campus of UNC-CH. For details, see the sidebar.