The North Carolina Master Chorale's program of holiday selections was entitled "Joy of the Season." The two hundred-strong chorus, under the direction of Alfred E. Sturgis, offered several well-known and some not-so-well-known selections particular to the Christmas season; the program was augmented by several guest artists, including the Cary High School Chamber Singers, the North Carolina Master Chorale Chamber Choir, and two young musicians making their Meymandi Concert Hall debuts as guests of the Chorale.
The Chorale offers a big sound that works well in a space like Meymandi: the singers don't overpower, and they come across as crisp and dynamic. Accompanied by a fourteen-piece ensemble of strings, winds, percussion, and the Chorale's regular accompanist Susan McClaskey Lohr, the main features of the program were charming arrangements of classic Christmas tunes like "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" and "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella." Schubert's early masterpiece, the Magnificat in C, D.486, was a standout of the program's first half; the able soloists were members of the chorale, and the chamber orchestra's playing was supportive and sure. The Chorale's performance, both in tempo and musicality, at times felt perfunctory, but this is partly due to Schubert's work, which evinces a musical grammar still based in the 18th-century.
The smaller Chamber Choir of the North Carolina Master Chorale, consisting of only twenty voices, sang several selections throughout the evening. Sturgis highlighted the work of one young composer, Daniel Elder, as representative of the next generation of choral music composition; indeed his music has a sort of barbershop-meets-Meredith-Monk feel.
As vital as the acoustic was for the Chorale, it was not as forgiving for the Chamber Choir. Though comprising excellent musicians, the choir seemed to suffer from some gruff entrances. Nevertheless their complex selections were a nice musical contrast to the more staid arrangements of the Chorale.
Edward Yasick led the Cary High School Chamber Singers through four selections, all sung from memory and with good musical control. The winner of the NCMC young soloist competition, eight-year-old Carina Klingensmith, sang a hit from Disney's insta-classic Frozen, and another eight-year-old, Patrick Donahue, received the opportunity to conduct the chorale through "Jingle Bells," thanks to a Chorale fund raising auction. While the program's second half at points ceded to holiday kitsch, the combination of classics like "We Need a Little Christmas," new compositions, and fresh reframings of old songs delighted the audience.