The Bel Canto Company’s 26th annual holiday concert took place under the direction of artistic director and conductor, Welborn E. Young. The tradition of excellent singing by this choral ensemble of professional singers continues, although the venue, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, was different from previous years. Joining the BCC in this performance was the Greensboro Youth Chorus under the direction of Ann Doyle.
Anyone who thinks that all 20th century music sounds the same would do well to hear this concert, which presented an amazing array of contemporary composers and arrangers. Take, for example, the opening “Gaudete” by David Moore (b. 1962). This joyous number served as a processional for the ensemble. Accompanied solely by tambourine, the Renaissance-like harmonies and dance rhythms evoked a much earlier period.
Much of the concert was sung unaccompanied, which gave the ensemble of not quite 30 singers a chance to show off its impressive blend and exquisite ensemble. “There is No Rose” by John Joubert (b. 1927) was poignant and sweet, and it contrasted very nicely with “In Dulci Jubilo” arranged by Jetse Bremer (b. 1959) which was much more syncopated and provided a jaunty feel. BCC member Bill Snedden’s arrangement of “I Wonder As I Wander” was very lovely and evocative.
Perhaps the most fun was found in “Deck the Halls in 7/8” by J. McKelvy. Maestro Young, after concluding this fast arrangement turned to the audience, took off his coat, and stated that the ensemble really needed to sing it much faster. And they did.
Most of the Bel Canto’s members can function just fine as soloists and “Corpus Christi Carol” arranged by Trond Kverno (b. 1945) featured several to good effect including Sarah Chowning, Liz Doebler, Hope Thacker, Bill Snedden, Jesse Darden, Tandy Brown, and Neal Sharpe.
John Alexander was the organist for the evening, and his contribution was significant, although the electronic instrument in the church can’t compare with the marvelous Fisk organ that resides in Christ United Methodist Church, the usual venue for this holiday offering. The short but sprightly “Adam Lay Ybounden” by Frank Boles featured organ accompaniment as did the wonderfully jazzy “A Gallery Carol” by John Gardner. Alexander also accompanied the two hymns that were sung by chorus and audience.
A nice addition to the evening was the harp accompaniments, superbly played by Sinthia Perez. David Willcocks’ “Sussex Carol” and “Birthday Carol” were two such numbers. Karen Beres is BCC accompanist, and she provided solid support in “I Saw Three Ships” arranged by Mark Riese (1953-1989).
The Greensboro Youth Chorus, accompanied by Nana Wolfe, provided a contrasting timbre to the BCC’s more mature and hearty sound. This female ensemble offered four works. They displayed sensitive music making under the superb direction of Ann Doyle. This listener was impressed with the discipline, diction, and blend presented by such a young group. The Youth Chorus joined forces with the BCC for an effective arrangement of “How Great Our Joy” by John Rutter (b. 1945).
The evening closed with what has become quite a tradition for this ensemble, Craig Courtney’s arrangement of “Silent Night.” What makes this number so special is the quasi-improvised piano accompaniment, expressively played by Beres, and the haunting oboe obbligato, beautifully performed by Ashley Barrett.