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The Concert Singers of Cary presented its generous holiday concert in the sanctuary of Raleigh's Highland United Methodist Church on the evening of December 14. The place was packed, and the program began a little late while additional chairs were brought in. There was a bit of this and a bit of that, and the sum of the diverse parts added up to a fine artistic experience, in toto. The program began with a short group sung by the Cary Children's Concert Choir, known as C4. Roberta Thomason has done a remarkable job with her charges, whose stage deportment and attention to their leader is as good - or better - than many adult ensembles. The 30 singers are in grades 3-6, and girls are very much in the majority. The sound produced by the ensemble is excellent, and the words emerged with tremendous clarity. The opening number is a personal favorite, recorded by the Hickory Choral Society and played every year by WCPE - it's the lovely Michael Clawson merger of Pachelbel's Canon with "The First Noel." Percussion was used in several numbers, including "Fum Fum Fum" and "The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy," and three soloists graced "Candle in the Window." "Let There Be Peace on Earth" brought this heartwarming group, accompanied by Angela Llewellyn-Jones, to a close.
And then the men of the Concert Singers delivered Franz Biebl's stunning Ave Maria, which is becoming something of a signature piece for this chorus. For some of us in attendance, this would have been enough, even if nothing else had been offered.
But there was lots more, including a magnificent group of music from or inspired by Venice. Monteverdi's "Gloria in Excelsis" is a big antiphonal piece that contrasts a small ensemble with a subdivided full choir, accompanied by strings (Jack Roller and Phyllis Garriss, violins, and Virginia Hudson, cello) and continuo. In this venue, the work of the 130 singers was felt as well as heard, and the results were stirring, indeed. Healy Willan's "Hodie, Christus Natus Est" was inspired by the tradition of St. Mark's in Venice, and it was richly sung. Giovanni Gabrieli's "Jubilate Deo," for double chorus, and Andrea Gabrieli's "Magnificat," for triple chorus (12 parts) brought the Venetian journey to a close. There was a bit too much organ at the outset of "Jubilate Deo" - things soon balanced out - but it was a treat to hear the real McCoy, played by Tom Bloom (and at other times by CSC accompanist Linda Velto), and to hear, too, some of the same excellent brass players who earlier in the day had appeared in Meymandi Concert Hall. On paper, this choir looks a bit skewed toward the women (there are over twice as many women as men), but the tenors and basses sang lustily (in a way that would have pleased John Wesley, among others) and more than carried the day.
The second half of the program brought forth a batch of fairly traditional carols and Christmas songs, including four arranged by David Willcocks and others by (or arranged by) John Rutter. Some of these works were accompanied by various brass and percussion players and organ, too. A version of "Joy to the World" by Frank Kuykendall was introduced by CSC Artistic Director Lawrence Speakman; Kuykendall was his first choral director, way back when, and the unpublished brass parts used on this occasion came directly from him. The lone soloist in the second half was soprano Kelly Stephenson. The audience had a chance to sing three numbers and did so with spirit and enthusiasm, after some prompting from the podium.... There were some minor ensemble glitches in a few spots, and some brief patches of less than perfect balance, some of which might have been due to the unusual interior design of the church, which led to the instrumentalists being off to the side. That design resulted in some strange interior shapes and angled surfaces, including a high wall over the altar, on which were projected the texts of many of the selections. The program notes, by CSC Executive Director David R. Lindquist, were as impressive as the concert itself. The show went on for about 2-1/4 hours, counting the delayed start and a longish intermission, and some may have thought it a bit too much of a good thing, but at the end the crowd was as enthusiastic as the singers had been throughout the evening, and people left humming and happy.