Think of what you really want to hear before Christmas, roll it all together in one festive bundle, and you have Pro Musica's Christmas concert. Of course, you may not have known in advance that these were the exact things you wanted to hear, but as soon as you heard them, you knew they fit your wishes to a T.
This was a program that emphasized the simple pleasures of song, burnished to iridescent luster. Beginning with selections from Bach's Christmas Oratorio and ranging through popular favorites, this group did everything with those little extra touches that spell the difference between merely satisfactory and ideal.With plenty of good voices, the choral blend is fine, diction clear and singers respond flexibly to Nielson's beats and nuances. They looked smashing in black and white, accented by touches of red after intermission.
Fine as it is, too much Christmas Oratorio can become tedious, and the hour's excerpt on this concert proved about right for interest and inspiration. The opening "Christians Be Joyful" had the requisite air of joyous summons, with golden brass and tympani in full flower. And the varied chorales, based on the tunes "From Heaven High" and "O Sacred Head," made reverent and expressive commentary, leading up to the final heaven-storming chorale chorus, "Now vengeance hath been done," with three brilliant baroque trumpets leading the charge.
Outstanding among the good soloists was Scott Miller as the Evangelist, whose easeful tone production, clear enunciation, smooth delivery and expressiveness suggest exceptional possibilities for the future in this rarified repertory. Good Evangelists are hard to come by.
Equally gratifying was Mary Ann Dresher in alto solos and recitatives of expressive maturity, who added clarity and focus to a lovely tone. Steven Meredith was the flexible and rich-toned bass, Megan Miller the clear, precise soprano, and tenor Thomas G. Pike full-voiced and fluent in "Ye foes of man."
"Chestnuts Roasting by an Open Fire" seemed an unlikely choice for Pro Musica, but its sophisticated styling, with instrumental combo, introduced the delights of the lighter side of this program, each song with its own special touch or twist.
"Jingle Bells" a-jingling and Rutter's "The Very Best Time of the Year" with synthesizer accompaniment; "Joy to the World" arranged by Paulus, "I Wonder as I Wander" arranged by Pro Musica's own Marie Barker Nelson (both in strange modalities), and a tender, beautiful "Lullay, Dear Jesus" were among a miscellany of carols.
Not least was "Angels We Have Heard on High," with Wasatch Bell Choir assisting. Led by Terry Waite, the Choir earlier charmed with several selections, striking off those muted, golden sparks that so exactly encapsulate the Christmas spirit.
Making their customary candlelight entrance, the Children of Pro Musica joined their elders for a luscious "O Holy Night" with Tom Pike as the soloist, and "Silent Night," in a beautiful varied arrangement by Jeffrey Van.