One would be almost obliged to enjoy a music program in that captivating venue. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church sits at the dead end of a narrow street, presenting a near pastoral setting right in downtown Cary. There this church hosted the Concert Singers of Cary with their Christmas program, “Holidays in the Caribbean.” Singers and instrumentalists performed under Artistic Director Lawrence Speakman. When called for throughout the program, Linda Velto ably provided piano support.
The program opened in a traditional vein with “O Magnum Mysterium” by the contemporary Venezuelan composer Cesar Alejandro Carrillo. This durable text received a modern treatment, but appropriately subdued and tuneful.
The next several pieces amply justified the title of the program. “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy” and “Here’s a Pretty Little Baby” introduced the unmistakable Caribbean flavor of much of the evening. Featured in the latter piece were the fine voices of tenor Simon Bate and soprano Megan Bender.
Undoubtedly the surprise of the program had to be the three movements from Glenn McClure’s St. Francis in the Americas: A Caribbean Mass. The “star” instrument here was the steel drum, skillfully exploited by guest artist Tracy Thornton. The piano and drum duo opened the Kyrie, soon joined by percussionists Leah Shull and John Hanks (who played various percussion instruments throughout the Mass), to be followed immediately by the chorus. Bate again appeared as soloist in the Credo. He and Bender were featured in the Santo (Sanctus).
Hearing a Mass with a Latin beat could be a bit disconcerting, but coming to terms did not prove to be too challenging. Perhaps a closer look at the Santo section would be instructive in attempting to characterize this powerful work. The helpful program notes referred to the “driving rhythm of this piece.” Further, instead of emphasizing the “solemnity of prayer, Latin American…liturgical music often emphasizes the lively, dance-like quality of prayer.”
Tradition took over for the latter part of the evening. The familiar “Still, Still, Still” showed the excellent chorus at its best, with first the women, then the men, in smooth unison. In the Appalachian standard, “I Wonder as I Wander,” soprano Justine Limpic displayed admirable control in the quiet, unaccompanied lines. “Carol of the Bells” and “Carol of the Drum” represented the “Christmas cliché” standards, both imaginatively realized and seemingly audience favorites. The chorus, over one hundred strong, was particularly effective in the spiritual, “Go Where I Send Thee,” as they repeatedly counted down “…three for the Hebrew children, two for Paul and Silas, and one for the Little Bitty Baby.”
Congratulations to Speakman, to the Concert Singers, and to St. Paul’s for a counter-intuitive but altogether pleasing view of the Christmas season.