The Bel Canto Company, under the direction of Artistic Director and Conductor Welborn E. Young, performed its annual holiday concert Saturday night to an appreciative audience that packed the sanctuary of Christ United Methodist Church. Familiar tunes were interspersed with new offerings; all were written or arranged in the 20th century.
The evening opened with a bang with Daniel Pinkham's 10-minute 1957 Christmas Cantata, a three-movement choral composition accompanied by brass choir, percussion, and organ. The BCC caught the spirit of the dance that permeates the first movement. The subdued "O magnum mysterium" second movement was quiet and lovely. The Finale returns the dance feel and features a "Glory to God" refrain with female voices on display in the first verse.
The 30-voice choir sounded great — clear diction and animated singing characterized both this work and the rest of the evening. Virginia Keast and Alyson Keyser (trumpets) and Aaron Wilson and Michael Long (trombones) comprised the brass quartet. Nathan Daughtry played the timpani with Susan Bates authoritatively commanding the organ console. Sometimes the playing was so spirited that it overpowered the singing.
The a cappella "Lux Aurumque" by Eric Whitacre (b. 1970) featured tight harmonies from the choir, which supported high single strands of melodic lines. Gorgeous. BCC member Bill Snedden arranged the familiar "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day," even incorporating the French carol "Il est né le divin enfant" in the process. BCC accompanist Karen Beres provided the sparkling piano part.
"The Rune of Hospitality" by Al Houkum (b. 1935) was a nice homophonic work with piano accompaniment. The audience joined in for a rousing rendition of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (arranged by John Ferguson, b. 1941). Organist Bates pulled out all the stops for this joyous carol, which doubled as a way for the BCC to leave the stage and usher in the Cantabile Singers of the Greensboro Youth Chorus.
The young voices were a delight to hear — a very nice contrast with the more seasoned BCC. Under the direction of Artistic Director and Conductor Ann Doyle, the almost 30-voice choir offered a well prepared, solidly sung "Cuncti simus," edited by Ricardo Soto. Percussionist Daughtry added distinctive sounds with African drums, joining organist Bates in the accompaniment; Nancy Thurston's recorder playing topped off the work.
"Christmas Lullaby" by John Rutter (b. 1945) was accompanied by organ in lovely unison singing from the youth choir. Most are familiar with the words to "What Child [is this?]," but this version by Paul W. Lohman had completely new music. Susan Duran's harp added a lovely timbre, although the choir's pitch sometimes sagged at the end of the verses.
The young choir's contribution concluded with "On This Still Silent Night" by Laura Farnell (b. 1976). Nana Wolfe-Hill, accompanist and assistant conductor, confidently led this work, which featured harp, piano and flute.
The second half of the concert began with "Christmas Day" by Gustav Holst (1874-1934), a potpourri of several carols including "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Good Christian Men Rejoice," and "The First Nowell." The composition featured several soloists from the BCC.
Jan Sandström's (b. 1954) wonderfully evocative "Lo, How A Rose Er' Blooming" pitted an octet of voices against the rest of the BCC. The large group sang sonorous "ooh" tone clusters that functioned as drones, over which the small ensemble sang the familiar tune. "Venite Adoremus" by Dan Forrest (b. 1978) featured cool harmonies and a trio of soloists in this unaccompanied work.
"The First Nowell" arranged by Dwight Bigler featured a mixture of men and women choruses accompanied by two players at the piano; Beres was joined by BCC member Anne Lewis. "Lullaby" by Henry Mollicone, again with a piano accompaniment was appropriately gently rocking.
The printed program concluded with a portion of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Dona Nobis Pacem, which Young dedicated to all those serving in the military who would not be together with their families during the holidays. The singing was haunting and gentle.
A single encore closed out the fine evening of music making — the traditional Bel Canto "Silent Night" (arranged by Craig Courtney) with the wonderful improvisatory-sounding piano accompaniment from Beres. This was sung in the round, with the BCC joined by the Cantabile Singers.