Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cantori New York - A Cantori Holiday - 12/17/11

Artistic Director & Conductor: Mark Shapiro
H. J. Gauntlett: Once in Royal David’s City
Flemish Traditional Carol: Cradle Song (Arr. John Rutter)
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Arr. Kenneth Neufeld)
Herbert Howells: Sing Lullaby
French Traditional Melody: Shepherds in the field Abiding (Arr. Charles Wood)
J. H. Hopkins: We Three Kings – Joe Klein, Joey Mele & Tobias Engstrom
Jonathan Breit: Ocho Kandelikas
Bach: Sheep may Safely Graze (Arr. Egon Petri) – Jason Wirth
Elizabeth Piston: Jesus Christ the Apple Tree – Emily Klonowski
Morten Lauridsen: O Magnum Mysterium
Traditional Taita Melody: Natufurahi Siku Ya Leo (Arr. Boniface Mganga)
Swedish Traditional Carol: Bereden väg för Herran!
Swedish Traditional Carol: Jul, Jul, Stralende Jul!
Elliot Z. Levine: Lo v’chayil
J. Pierpont: Jingle Bells – Jason Wirth & Erol Gurol
Adolphe Adam: Oh, Holy Night – Nicholas Chong
Russian Traditional Carol: I drink to my Mary’s Health
W. J. Kirkpatrick: Away in a Manger
English Traditional Carol: Wassail Song (Arr. Vaughn Williams)
Franz Biebl: Ave Maria – Matt Perkins, Gerald Metz, Joel Klein, Erol Gurol & Jason Wirth
Welsh Traditional Carol: Deck the Hall
14th century German Melody: Lo, How the Rose
Traditional West Country Carol: We wish you a Merry Christmas
Franz Gruber: Silent Night - Sing Along

The holiday season is upon us again, which means frigidly cold temperatures, ubiquitous Christmas markets, crowded department stores, brightly colorful decorations, Santa Clauses at every corner, and the same darn Christmas music over and over and over again. Even if you carefully avoid any commercial destinations, it is practically impossible to escape gratingly cheerful seasonal tunes as soon as you step outside, whether they're spilling out through the open door of a store or are just innocently hummed by an unsuspecting culprit carrying a dozen shopping bags on the street. The economy may be thankful. I am less so.
Since there seems to be no way to get around it, I have decided to embrace it in the best way possible: hearing those cyclic songs and hymns performed by dedicated professionals in an elating environment. That’s how yesterday evening I found myself in the lovely Church of Saint Luke in the Fields, a prized landmark of Greenwhich Village, for “A Cantori Holiday”, ready to be serenaded by one of the most consistency adventurous and highly praised choruses of New York City. If I was going to do it, I might as well do it with the best.

The result was a truly delectable celebration, overflowing with fun, sacred, exotic holiday songs picked by various members of Cantori New York to take us all over the world as well as through several centuries. Even if “Jingle Bells” or “We wish you a Merry Christmas”, to name my two worst nightmares, were as exasperatingly perky as ever, they also had never sounded so good. (Granted, the bar was set pretty low, but that is still a huge compliment.)
Highlights were numerous: a brilliantly festive “Ocho Kandelikas” by Jonathan Breit, a member of Cantori New York, an intensely rousing “Holy Night”, sung by Nicholas Chong, and Franz Biebl’s all-male “Ave Maria”, during which three of the singers were placed in the back of the church while Mark Shapiro was conducting from the middle of the aisle.
My personal favorite, Bach’s “Sheep may safely Graze”, was the only work not involving any voice, except for the piano’s. I frankly can’t imagine anybody surpassing Leon Fleisher’s divinely inspired take on it a couple of years ago at Strathmore, the kind of encore that makes you instantaneously forget the work on the program you had actually come to hear. Last night Jason Wirth unsurprisingly did not surpass the master, but he clearly proved to be on the right path to grow into an excellent soloist.
The last piece of the evening was the unavoidable “Silent Night”, with Mark Shapiro conducting the audience for the first and last verses while turning back to his chorus for the second one. A beautifully peaceful – This is one of the traditional carols I do like – ending to a much enjoyed performance.

Then it was on to the backroom for the after-concert party with less lofty but just as pleasurable festivities. The sheep safely, and abundantly, grazed, indeed. Happy Holidays!

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