Mark Shapiro: Artistic Director and Conductor
William Walton: What Cheer
Elliot Levine: Al Hanissim
Malcolm Williamson: This Christmas Night
Mateo Flexcha: Riu, riu, riu
Soloists: Steve Albert, Kimberly DiNicola, Daniel Lowen, Benjamin Haile, Eleanor Killiam, Bruce Bush
Shepherds in the Fields Abiding (Arr. David Willcocks)
German Melody: Lo, How the Rose (Arr. M. Praetorius)
Kim Gannon & Walter Kent: I'll be home for Christmas (Arr. Mac Huff)
J. Pierpont: Jingle Bells (Arr. David Willcocks)
Mark Shapiro: Piano
Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane: Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Arr. Ken Neufeld)
Moses Hogan: Glory, Glory, Glory
Soloist: Ben Keiper
Aaron Bruckner: Virga Jesse
English Carol: The Wassail Song (Arr. R. Vaughan Williams)
Elizabeth Poston: Jesus Christ and the Apple Tree
Soloist: Kimberly DiNicola
Mykola Leontovich and Peter J. Wilhousky: Carol of the Bells
Harold Darke: In the Bleak Midwinter
Soloists: Amy Baehr, Ben Keiper
Welch Carol: Deck the Hall (Arr. David Willcocks)
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Bogoroditse Devo
Franz Xaver Biebl: Ave Maria
Soloists: Bruce Bush, Mark Stedman
Trio: Steve Albert, Brian Morales, Steve Underhill
West Country Carol: We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Arr. Arthur Warrell)
Franz Gruber: Silent Night (Sing-along)
Ready or not, we’re now in the midst of the holiday season with all that it implies, and in New York City it does imply quite a lot. But it is not all bad. While countless poor souls spend hours fighting huddled masses in the cold to catch a glimpse of the Rockefeller Center’s dazzling Christmas tree or some fancy holiday windows, the enlightened ones wisely turn their attention to one of the Big Apple’s other beloved traditions: Cantori New York’s holiday concert at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields.
Not that their glowing reputation is unearned as the unflappable choir and artistic director have never failed to deliver imaginative holiday music performances, boldly taking an ever-changing set of over-played seasonal classics and making them sound fresh and exciting while introducing a few more obscure but totally worthy pieces for good measure. The end result being that the program offers plenty for everybody to enjoy and take home.
As an extra bonus, this year the weather proved to be admittedly acceptable (Fighting for one’s way through a full-blown snowstorm was not required), the trains reasonably efficient (Minimum planning was still required), and the choir in exceptional form (No surprise there). So the West Village’s historic Episcopalian church steadily filled up with an eclectic and excited crowd before happily rocking for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon. I for one would not have the holiday season any other way.
The annual celebration got underway on a resolutely jolly and all-inclusive note with William Walton’s rousing Christmas carol “What Cheer” before the choir seamlessly moved on to Elliot Levine’s equally lively Hanukkah song “Al Hanissim”. Back on the Christmas track without missing a beat, the choir took the more than willing audience on a highly selective trip around the world with Australian Malcolm Williamson’s “This Christmas Night”, Spanish Mateo Fletcha’s “Riu, riu, riu”, French-flavored “Shepherds in the Fields Abiding”, and German-born “Lo, How the Rose”.
We eventually made it to predictable American territory for Cantori’s actually enjoyable version of the inescapable “Jingle Bells”, whose irrepressible cheerfulness stood out even more than usual, which is saying something, as it was sandwiched between the two sure-fire tranquilizers that are “I'll be home for Christmas” and “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. Next, and not a minute too soon, the performance reached another certified high with Moses Hogan’ gloriously uplifting spiritual “Glory, Glory, Glory”.
After the intermission and raffle, the second half of the concert started in style with a highbrow new addition in Bruckner’s heavenly motet “Virga Jesse”, followed by the rambunctious old English favorite “The Wassail Song”. The non-Christmassy but still appropriate “Jesus Christ and the Apple Tree” was back too, as was the unabashedly joyful “Carol of the Bells”. On the other hand, Harold Darke’s appealing “In the Bleak Midwinter”, a lovely musical setting to Christina Rosetti’s popular poem, was a brand new — and welcome — number. There was no avoiding “Deck the Hall”, but the deftly sped-up version went by quickly enough, and then it was thankfully over for another year.
The home-run was grand almost all the way starting with Rachmaninoff’s splendid “Bogoroditse Devo”, for which the singers were standing on each side of the audience and Biebl’s ever-poignant all-male “Ave Maria”, possibly the holiday concert’s all-time favorite, before “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” kind of broke the lingering spell with relentless perkiness galore and then some. But the traditional “Silent Night” sing-along, during which the choir unexpectedly sang the second verse in German while the rest of us safely stuck to English, made everything all right, as it always does.
Not to be outdone by the cultural part of the day, the well-attended post-concert party was as generous in goodies and festive in mood as it has ever been. Happy holidays!