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Not even a steady late-fall drizzle could dampen the Christmas spirits of either audience or performers at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church. There the Concert Singers of Cary staged “A Ceremony of Carols,” the latest edition of their annual Christmas celebration. Adding emphasis to the program title, the magnum opus of the evening was Britten’s great work, A Ceremony of Carols, for treble voices. Artistic Director Lawrence Speakman led all the ensembles except the opening number.
Beginning the evening were the Symphonic Choir Men with Franz Biebel’s “Ave Maria.” This powerful piece, performed without director or accompaniment, featured Speakman and tenors David Ward and David Lindquist in solo roles. These thirty voices showed excellent discipline and richness of tone. This group, and indeed all the other ensembles, should receive praise for their clear diction. Texts were generally understandable to a fine degree. (And as a nice little bonus, hallelujah was never pronounced hal-lay-lujah.)
Next came the namesake piece as the Symphonic Choir Women presented Benjamin Britten’s masterwork, with soprano Jan Guthrie and mezzo Megan Boyd as admirable soloists when called upon. Ably furnishing the distinctive harp accompaniment that gives this work so much of its appeal was guest artist Winifred Garrett. The thrilling “Procession” established the spirit as the singers marched in. The rich mezzo solo from “That yonge child” and the soaring soprano featured in “Balulalow” helped to highlight the dozen subsections of the work. The closing “Recession” was beautifully performed without actually recessing, thereby enhancing the logistics of movement, but at some cost to the overall effectiveness of the number.
The Chamber Choir consisting of some thirty voices offered several magical selections by contemporary composers. “O Magnum Mysterium” by American composer William Hawley sounded of ancient chants, but with rich coloration. Accompanist Garrett returned with her harp to brighten the “Jesu Carols” of Stephen Paulus, comprising four short Christmas pieces. Soprano Kathryn McCoy appeared (briefly and demandingly) in “Lux Aurumque” by Eric Whitacre, and soprano Roberta Thomason’s work was effective in René Clausen’s “Sweet Was the Song.”
The Symphonic Choir Men, with soprano Justine Limpic, closed the evening with several arrangements by Thomas Beveridge. In the jaunty “Il est né le divin enfant,” the soprano voice acted somewhat as a solo instrument with the men’s voices doing the “orchestra,” a pleasing combination indeed. Limpic’s dialog with the men furnished new life to the spiritual, “Mary Had a Baby.” Regular accompanist Allen Bailey on the organ and the aforementioned Jan Guthrie on the piano supported all of these selections.
As encore to a full evening, Speakman invited the audience members to join his combined huge forces for a rendition of Handel’s obligatory “Hallelujah Chorus.”