The traditional seasonal concert by the Bel Canto Company attracted a SRO audience to Christ United Methodist Church for the first of two concerts.. Mixing it up a bit this year, the program included not only the Greensboro Youth Chorus Cantabile Singers, but also the jazzy Quintessentials (a group of five BCC singers) and narration by “Charles Dickens” (played by Michael Kamtman). The assortment provided for a night of music making at a very high level.

The evening began with a stunning presentation of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” featuring the Cantabile Singers and the BCC accompanied by four handbell ringers. An ensemble of about a third of the 24-member Cantabile sang from the front of the church – the other singers surrounded the audience – in the gorgeous arrangement by J. Edmund Hughes that magically interwove “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” with the carol.

Michael Kamtman proved to be quite a wonderful Dickens. Reciting a narration written by BCC Board Member Sue Keith, his rich, hearty voice provided commentary throughout the evening, referencing both Dickens’ culture as well as ours in the 21st century. A string quintet comprised of Sarah Womack and Lauren Eastman, violins, Kate Middel, viola, Gayle Masarie, cello, and Mara Barker, bass, provided wonderful accompaniment to many of the pieces.

The BCC presented many jewels, but “Serenity” (O Magnum Mysterium) by Norwegian-born Ola Gjeilo (1978) may have been the most spectacular. The choir sang the slowly evolving harmonies – many quite dissonant – with impeccable intonation. Artistic Director and Conductor Welborn Young sensitively shaped this hauntingly beautiful piece so the music became an aural kaleidoscope of changing colors. The icing on the tonal cake was the ethereal cello and violin obbligato octave melody.

Cantabile, directed by Founder and Artistic Director Ann Doyle, sang “How Great Our Joy” by Craig Courtney. The young singers, obviously perfectly prepared, were accompanied by the strings. Both ensembles joined in “Dormi, Jesu,” conducted by BCC member Liz Doebler (click here for her brief bio and notes on other BCC members). This gentle lullaby effectively alternated between major and minor tonalities.

The men of the BCC sang a very different version of Katherine Davis’ “Little Drummer Boy.” The ever-changing meter provided lots of energy and surprises in this fun arrangement by Ted Arthur.

Four selections from Handel’s Messiah revealed a somewhat lighter vocal sound from the BCC, perfectly suited to the brisk tempi Young employed. All were accompanied by the string quintet and portative organ, played by BCC accompanist Karen Beres.

“O Thou that Tellest” started a little too fast, but quickly settled down. Jolynda Bowers was the fine soloist. The BCC danced through “And He Shall Purify” and “His Yoke Is Easy.” Young invited members of the audience to come to the front of the church to join in the “Hallelujah” chorus – I suspect more took him up on the offer than he had anticipated. Animated and joyous singing was the result.

Three dance-like numbers followed intermission. “I Saw Three Ships,” arranged by Mack Wilberg, was accompanied by handbells and four-hand piano with Anne Lewis assisting Beres. BCC member Bill Snedden arranged the unaccompanied “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day”. The opening verses alternated between the men and the women of the ensemble. Cantabile Assistant Director Nana Wolfe-Hill led the youth in “Nu är det Jul igen” (“Yuletime is here again!”), an upbeat Swedish dance carol arranged by Ron Jeffers.

Two traditional pieces, Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” and Mel Tormé/Bob Wells’ “The Christmas Song” were cast in modern, unaccompanied arrangements. Both displayed the superb musicianship of the BCC.

The a cappella Quintessentials (Sarah Keith Chowning, Liz Doebler, Dianne Hahn Black, Bill Snedden, and Tandy Brown) displayed great blend in some tight harmonies in “Winter Wonderland” and “O Christmas Tree.”

Doyle and Cantabile returned for one last offering: “Deck the Halls in 7/8,”an off-beat fun arrangement that practically trips over itself.

The evening concluded with the perennial favorite “Silent Night” arranged by Craig Courtney with piano and string quartet accompaniment. All singers surrounded the audience for the gentle and beautiful conclusion.

This program will be repeated on December 16 in the same venue. For details, see the sidebar.