For 30 years the Bel Canto Company has provided some of the best vocal music in the region, and this season's holiday concert, presented in Christ United Methodist Church's sanctuary, provided yet another showcase of the prowess of the 30-plus singers. As has been tradition for several years the Greensboro Youth Chorus, directed by Ann Doyle, provided a different timbre to the proceedings.
While much of the music on the program was familiar, the arrangements clothed the recognized tunes in new packaging. A string quintet comprised of Sarah Womack and Ruth Metheny, violins, Simon Ertz, viola, Gayle Masarie, cello, and John Spuller, bass, provided occasional accompaniment.
Two knock-out performances started the evening in a high fashion. Hymn to the Virgin by Benjamin Britten (1913-76) showcased the exquisite tuning and gorgeous color that exemplifies the best of the BCC. Sung in a split choir arrangement, with half of the choir on either side of the audience, the a cappella arrangement was stunning. Artistic Director and Conductor Welborn E. Young moved directly into "Personent Hodie" by Lara Hoggard (1915-2007) with colorful organ accompaniment provided by Susan Bates. This hymn of glory provided "traveling" music for the ensemble to gather at the front of the sanctuary.
Four excerpts from Handel's Messiah were sprinkled through the evening, beginning with "For Unto Us," which was taken at a brisk clip; the strings along with Bates on portative provided lively accompaniment. Later, "And The Glory of the Lord," "Glory To God," and (of course) "Hallelujah" mixed the traditional with the more contemporary.
The piano joined the quintet and portative for a winning "The First Noel" arranged by Dan Forrest (b.1978). Mack Wilberg's arrangement of "Angels We Have Heard on High" began as an a cappella affair of the traditional tune, but the ensuing organ interlude and accompaniment created an entirely different effect.
The Greensboro Youth Chorus Cantabile Singers started their portion of the program with "Puer Natus Est," a 16th century plainchant arranged by Andrea Ramsey. Four members of the ensemble provided sparse handbell accompaniment to this lovely tune, sung mostly in unison except for open 5ths in the concluding "Alleluia."
Bob Chilcott's "Mid-winter" was sung a capella, but John Rutter's "Christmas Lullaby" was accompanied by John Alexander on organ. Four soloists from the BCC joined the Cantabile Singers for an amazing rhythmically complex arrangement of "Gaudete!" ("Rejoice") aided by the skillful percussion work of Wiley Sykes and Betsy Bevan. Director Doyle was dancing!
Four recitatives from Messiah opened the second half of the evening — Nicolle Alexandre Sherwood and Wendi Washington-Hunt were the able soloists. "Snow Had Fallen; Christ Was Born" by Stephen Paulus (b. 1949) was a gentle, flowing piece with piano accompaniment.
Rutter's "What Sweeter Music," accompanied by strings and piano was a beautiful offering, and Mack Wilberg's rousing arrangement of "I Saw Three Ships" included handbells and piano four-hand. BCC chorister Anne Lewis joined BCC accompanist Karen Beres for this lively number.
The evening ended with Craig Courtney's haunting arrangement of "Silent Night," a tradition that has been in place for as long as I can remember. The Cantabile Singers joined the BCC in this final gift to the large and appreciate audience.
Note: This program will be repeated on 12/3. For details, see the sidebar.