Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cantori New York - A Cantori Holiday - 12/06/14

Artistic Director & Conductor: Mark Shapiro
French Franciscan Processional: Veni, veni Emmanuel (Arr. David Willcocks)
Dutch Traditional Melody: King Jesus Hath a Garden (Arr. Charles Wood)
Alice Dryen: Banu Choshech Legaresh
Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Arr. Ken Neufeld)
Mykola Leontovich: Carol of the Bells (Arr. Peter Wilhousky)
Malcolm Williamson: This Christmas Night
Rex Isenberg: Ravta et Rivam Isaac
French Traditional Melody: Shepherds in the Field Abiding (Arr. Charles Wood)
German Traditional Melody: Lo, How a Rose e'er Blooming
Blooming J. Pierpoint: Jingle Bells
John Jacob Niles: I wonder as I wander - Thomasin Bentley (Soprano)
H. Berlioz: Shepherds Chorus from L'enfance du Christ
Elizabeth Poston: Jesus Christ the Apple Tree - Amy Joscelyn (Soprano)
Jonathan Breit: Ocho Kandelikas
Kim Gannon & Walter Kent: I'll be Home for Christmas (Arr. Mac Huff)
Franz Biebl: Ave Maria - Jonathan Breit, Mark Stedman (Soloists), Steve Underhill, Joe Klein, Steve Albert (Trio)
Welsh Carol: Deck the Halls (Arr. David Willcocks)
West Country Carol: We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Arr: Arthur Warrell)
Franz Gruber: Silent Night (Sing along)

'Tis this time of the year again, when days are short, temperatures are low, trees are cut, shop windows are sparkling, and holiday concerts spring up everywhere. So the main question is not if you will get a chance to hear holiday music, but which performance(s) to pick. I figured a long time ago that although I try to stay away from the typical sugariness and perkiness of standard holiday tunes, some traditions cannot really be avoided, so I might as well choose the most fun events.
Luckily for me, Cantori New York came to the rescue a few years ago with its holiday-flavored, but carefully balanced and expertly performed assortment of old European songs (That would be the best part), Hollywood tunes (That would be the sugary part) and Christmas carols (That would be the perky part). And since the adventurous ensemble is also an equal opportunity choir and this time of year is not only about Christmas after all, they always make sure to throw a couple of Hanukkah pieces in the mix as well (That would be the untraditional part).
So last Saturday afternoon, I made it down to the West Village again to join a large group of friends spread out among the packed audience in the lovely St. Luke in the Fields Church for the annual holiday ritual. The pouring rain we had to put up with was still a vast improvement over the snow storm we had to trudge through last year, even if it was visually less pleasing. More importantly, the inside of the church was dry, welcoming, and ready for a celebration.

The concert started with the elegiac Franciscan chant "Veni, veni Emmanuel", which, in a remarkable effort of synchronicity, was unexpectedly accompanied from the very first note, and then sporadically, by the protesting of a baby, who was clearly not in the mood to enjoy the hymn's serene beauty. The presumably tiny but decidedly feisty additional soundtrack was at last removed a couple of songs down the road, after several attempts at restoring peace had repeatedly failed. When you gotta go, you gotta go.
The rest of the concert went on without any other disturbances, and the choir whole-heartedly worked their way through the familiar playlist with their trademark assurance, energy and finesse. There was one new piece, "Shepherds' Farewell" from Berlioz's L'enfance du Christ, a simple, very moving and warmly executed tribute to the shepherds' bidding good-bye to the infant Jesus as he and his family were leaving Bethlehem for Egypt.
My eagerly awaited personal favorites did not disappoint either. Beside the intermittently enjoyable "Veni, veni Emmanuel", the German carol "Lo, How a Rose e'er blooming" was a tastefully joyful moment and, as always,  Biebl's popular all-male "Ave Maria" turned out discreetly, yet richly nuanced.
There was more upbeat fare too. "Shepherds in the Field Abiding", the English version of "Les anges dans nos campagnes", gloriously brought me back to my childhood's Christmas music, and Jonathan Breit's ever-sizzling "Ocho Kandelikas" added its unique touch of hot, hot, hot Judeo-Spanish spices to the celebration, rightfully prompting one of the most enthusiastic ovations of the day.
All songs were big hits and the fired-up ensemble did an impeccable job at pleasing the captive audience, which continuously swooned, reflected, rejoiced, laughed and clapped. And even I have to admit that Cantori performs an exceptionally rocking version of the dreaded "Jingle Bells", which never fails to bring the house ‒ or church ‒ down.
The last number of the evening was the traditional "Silent Night" sing along, which went as smoothly as possible considering the circumstances, before we all reconvened in the back room for the traditional post-concert party. Some traditions are just too good not to be upheld indeed. Happy holidays!

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