Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Cantori New York - A Cantori Holiday - 12/19/15

Mark Shapiro: Artistic Director and Conductor
Richard Rodney Bennett: Out of your Sleep
William Wallton: What Cheer
Alice Dryden: Banu Choshech
G. R. Woordward: Shepherds in the Fields Abiding (Arr. David Willcocks)
Jonathan Dove: The Three Kings
16th Century French Melody: Ding Dong, Merrily on High (Arr. Charles Wood)
Hector Berlioz: The Shepherds' Farewell
English Traditional Carol: The Wassail Song (Arr. R. Vaughan Williams)
Old Basque Carol: I saw a Maiden (Arr. Edgar Pettman)
J. Pierpont: Jingle Bells
Mark Shapiro: Piano
Emily Klonowski: Conductor
Reginald Jacques: When Christ was Born
Peter Warlock: Bethlehem Down
English Traditional Carol: The First Noël (Arr. David Willcocks)
English Traditional Carol: The Holly and the Ivy (Arr. Walford Davies)
Rex Isenberg: Ravta et Rivam
Elizabeth Poston: Jesus Christ and the Apple Tree
Emily Klonowski: Soloist
English Traditional Carol: I saw Three Ships (Arr. David Willcocks)
Polish Carol: Infant Holy (Arr. David Willcocks)
Franz Xaver Biebl: Ave Maria
Mark Stedman: Soloist
Steve Albert, Matt Perkins and Steve Underhill: Trio
West Country Carol: We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Arr. Arthur Warrell)
Franz Gruber: Silent Night (Sing Along)

It was on a appropriately - but still shockingly - cold, late afternoon that I made my way to the Village's Church of St. Luke in the Fields last Saturday for my one and only concession to the holiday season in general, and holiday music in particular: Cantori New York's immensely popular holiday concert. And this year again, the lovely little church filled up early and quickly with an eclectic crowd that was obviously very much looking forward to enjoying not only the choir's well-known singing chops, but also their very special holiday gift to us: A whole treasure chest full of new songs to accompany the ones we simply could not do without. Who said Santa did not exist?

Since some deep-rooted traditions are just too good to disregard, a few musical treats from the Old Continent were still there. So it was with always the same pleasure that we heard the singers happily work their expert way through "Shepherds in the Fields Abiding", which never fails to bring me back to my French childhood, "The Wassail Song", which eloquently celebrates the joys of drinking English style, and the timelessly beautiful all-male "Ave Maria", whose German composer Franz Xaver Biebl could only have been divinely inspired.
From this side of the pond we still had "Jesus Christ and the Apple Tree", which has consistently remained one of the most beloved carols of the entire repertoire despite making no references to Christmas whatsoever and, since it apparently must be heard if at all possible, Cantori's admittedly pretty groovy version of "Jingle Bells". On the other hand, the entire basket of sugary Hollywood tunes had blissfully disappeared, which naturally led me to think that there might be a God after all.
More recurring works of the welcome kind, stepping out of the Christmas box this time, were "Banu Choshech" by Alice Dryden and "Ravta et Rivam" by Cantori member Rex Isenberg, who accomplished the commendable feat of providing the non dopey Jewish song of the evening.
Among the eagerly awaited novelties stood out a group of compelling traditional carols from England comprising the inconspicuously haunting "Bethlehem Down", the delicately uplifting "The First Noël" and "The Holly and the Ivy", as well as the more upbeat "I saw Three Ships". Nonplussed by those new challenges, Cantori's singers handled them with poise and gusto.
In the spirit of the season, the die-hard "Ocho Kandelikas" aficionados eventually decided against carrying out a mutiny, or even loudly huffing and puffing their way out of the church for that matter, after discovering to their horror that their favorite Hanukkah song was not included in the program, but we still have to state for the record that it was a seriously close call.
The concert ended with the borderline-too-perky-but-we-will-put-up-with-it-because-this-is-almost-over "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", followed by the time-honored sing along on "Silent Night", with everyone singing the first and last verse while the choir took care of the second one. They're still better than the rest of us – All that practice does pay off – but then again, there is always next year.

The evening was not over though, as this year artists and audience excitedly made their way downstairs to a more spacious space than the regular one (This time, one could not only breathe, but actually move around too!) where the traditional post-performance party rocked as hard as ever. Happy Holidays!

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