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The Bel Canto Company, led by its Artistic Director and Conductor, Welborn E. Young, kicked off the holiday season and provided a celebration party for a new CD, Bel Canto Live! Rejoice and Be Merry*, the first in many years. The CD includes recordings from live concerts over the last five years.
The evening opened with the lively “Rejoice and Be Merry” by John Rutter (b. 1945). This dance-like number included sprightly organ accompaniment, supplied by Susan Bates. A complete contrast followed, “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl (1906-2001). This slow and sustained work was beautifully performed by the BCC, joined by the Greensboro Youth Chorus Cantabile Singers (prepared by Founder and Artistic Director, Ann Doyle). The strophic work featured soloists Gerald Whittington Tandy Brown, and Bill Snedden, who served as cantors, separating each verse.
The women and the men contrasted with each other in “The Holly and the Ivy,” arranged by Rutter. BCC Assistant Conductor Liz Doebler skillfully led the group, which was accompanied by perky piano supplied by BCC accompanist Karen Beres.
The familiar “Carol of the Drum” by Katherine Davis (1892-1980) featured the BCC men supplying the “pa rum pum pum pum” over which the women told the tale of the little boy with nothing but his drum to offer for baby Jesus. This work, incidentally, is on the new CD. Bates returned to the organ to accompany the ensemble in “O Holy Night, “arranged by René Clausen (b. 1953). Young focused on the gentle nature of the text rather than bringing forth the drama in the final verse.
Young invited the large audience to join in the singing of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” (arranged by David Wilcox b. 1958); again, Bates provided the splendid organ accompaniment. The work also served as an opportunity for the BCC to exit the stage and usher in the GYC, which closed out the first half of the program.
Ann Doyle took the podium, and with piano accompanist Nana Wolfe-Hill and flutist Tiffany Lamb, the almost-30-voice choir sang Gloria in Excelsis Deo by James McCray. The three-part work features a slow middle section, sandwiched between two lively layers. The Catalan Lullaby “El Noi de la Mare” featured some exotic piano interludes, evocatively played by Wolfe-Hill.
“Ding Dong! Merrily On High” (arranged by Howard Cable [not Coble, as listed in the program]) was up-beat, while Dan Forrest’s “There is Faint Music” was gentle and lovely. The GYC’s contribution concluded with Christmas Dance of the Shepherds, by Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967), a 2-part piece cleanly sung with Lamb providing a bird-like piccolo part.
The second half began with “Go Tell It On the Mountain” arranged by Donald McCullough (1901-1978), which featured Hilary Webb, Sarah Chowning, and Maya Clausen as strong soloists. “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” by Robert MacGimsey (1898-1979) was sensitively conducted by Doebler and featured Jolynda Bowers as soloist. The tune “Go Tell It On the Mountain” was woven into the fabric.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” composed by BCC’s own Bill Snedden is a “fresh conception,” according to Young. Harp accompaniment (solidly played by Bonnie Bach) and obbligato flute in several of the verses richly added to the choral singing that juxtaposed men and women’s voices; a lovely world premiere.
Harpist Bach was also employed in McCullough’s arrangement of “Angels We Have Heard On High.” Her accompaniment sometimes echoed melodic lines sung by the choir. The audience then joined in the singing of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”
Young introduced the next number, “Jingle Bells,” arranged by Gordon Langford (b. 1930), as the most commercial piece on the program (and pointed out that this provided an ideal opening to push BCC’s own new CD). This was a fast, delightful and jazzy arrangement.
The evening closed with Bel Canto’s traditional offering, “Silent Night” arranged by Craig Courtney, but this year the GYC returned to join the choir with flute, harp and piano accompaniment, and even the audience was invited to sing the 2nd and 3rd verses; a beautiful ending to a lovely evening of familiar holiday fare.
*From the Company's press release on the CD:
Just in time for holiday giving: "Bel Canto Company releases a new album of holiday choral music. This December, after nine years, the wait is over. Bel Canto Live! Rejoice and Be Merry will be the choir's ninth recording and the first made under the leadership of current artistic director and conductor, Dr. Welborn Young. The album is a compilation of live recordings gathered from the choir's holiday concerts between 2005, Dr. Young's first season with Bel Canto, and 2010. It will be available beginning December 1 and pre-orders for the album are being accepted now. The CD marks Bel Canto Company's recommitment to making professional choral recordings and is the first in a planned cycle of recordings to be released every two to three years. Some of the proceeds from the CD will help to fund the choir's activities this season, but the bulk of anticipated sales are meant to help fund new recording projects in the next few years. These will include both new studio releases as well as live recordings. Individuals and groups interested in ordering Bel Canto Company's new CD ... may do so online at www.belcantocompany.com or by calling the office at 336-333-2220."