"A Classical Christmas" - Capital Area Chorale Conducted by William J. Weisser. Privately-published CD (58:55). $15.00, available online at http://www.cachorale.org/ [inactive 12/04] or by calling Mark Manring at 919/254-4928 or 919/846-1293.
This CD presents concert recordings made last year at Edenton Street United Methodist Church and St. Michael's Episcopal Church during the Capital Area Chorale's annual Christmas concerts. As we noted in our review (for another paper) of one of these presentations, the programs broke new ground for an innovative choir that has long been known for its championship of lighter music. The lineup spans a wide variety of musical styles from across a considerable span of time. The works range from C. Winfred Douglas' classic arrangement of "Of the Father's love begotten," which has roots in the 11th century, to Richmond-based composer David Schwoebel's version of "O come, O come, Emmanuel." In between come paired settings of "O magnum mysterium," by Tomas Luis de Victoria and Morten Lauridsen, and of "Ave Maria," by Anton Bruckner and Franz Biebl (the latter in a SATB edition). Hugo Distler's adaptation of "Lo! How a rose e'er blooming" is a rarely-heard treatment of a great seasonal favorite, and Mack Wilberg's setting "Awake, arise and hail the morn" (18th-c. American) is altogether refreshing. John Rutter, who has visited Raleigh, is represented by two carols; many view his arrangements as falling in the footsteps of the work of Shaw and Parker, and these evoke that strong tradition. Among the more intriguing offerings are Richard Purvis' adaptation of the old Scottish carol "What strangers are these," featuring soloists Ailsa Tessier and Malcolm Cass, and Robert Hunter's "The Christmas Nightingale,"in which flutist Ruth Brown and pianist Brenda Fernandez play a transcription of Chopin's "Berceuse" while the choir intones a Christmas text. Also heard are "Fum, fum, fum" and "Away in a manger," which features boy soprano Quinn Ferebee. The performances are uniformly good, and their excellence is particularly apparent in the numerous a cappella works that dot the program. As noted, these selections represent a significant advance for this ensemble, and its members come through admirably. The Manring family contributed extensively to the recording - Mark Manring did the engineering and the color photo of the choir that graces its cover, and the design itself was by Mandie Manring. There are many Christmas recordings but few of them range as widely as this one while concurrently avoiding tunes that for better or worse get trotted out every year.
This is part of a series of CDs and tapes produced by the Capital Area Chorale under Weisser's leadership. Audio files of this one and the choir's other releases are available online at the website given in the headnote. Recommended!