SALT LAKE CHILDREN'S CHOIR, Cathedral of the Madeleine, Saturday

Whenever reviewing a children's choir concert, it's usual to say it sounds sweet and angelic.

Listening to the Salt Lake Children's Choir sing, one quickly realizes that it coined the phrase.

Under the guidance and leadership of founder and director Ralph B. Woodward, the Salt Lake Children's Choir has set the standard for intonation, precision and articulation. The 80 children of the choir, divided into two groups based in part on age, are wonderfully talented and musical.

A children's choir has a special sound and Woodward, who is now in his 29th season directing the choir, knows how to bring out the best in his young singers. The choir is perpetually in transition as singers move from one group to the other or leave the choir because they've reached the age limit, but one thing has always remained constant over the years — the quality of its concerts. There is a professional sheen to its performances that sets the choir apart from others.

One of the true joys of the holiday season is the choir's annual Christmas concerts in the Cathedral of the Madeleine, where they have been holding these concerts since 1984. Joined by harpist Lisa Rytting and organist Ken Udy, the choir performed their Christmas concerts this past weekend, and true to form, it was something not to be missed.

The program opened with Frank Ahrold's reflective "So Prays the Mother Mary," which was followed by a set of medieval and renaissance songs, along with a few traditional European carols. Among these, the choir gave an exceptionally delightful rendition of "The Wexford Carol" and "Il est ne le divin Enfant."

Other pieces that were on the program that were notable were the German "Susani," in Woodward's evocative arrangement that featured one of the choir members, Moira Oliphant, on flute; Gabriel Faure's "Tantum Ergo;" J.S. Bach's "Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light and "We Hasten;" and "Pat-a-Pan."

No concert by the Salt Lake Children's Choir is complete without a few songs by Woodward. Besides being a remarkable arranger, Woodward is also a superb composer. There were several of his pieces on the program last weekend. Among these were the touchingly tender "Rise Up Now, Ye Children" and "Little Star," and his demanding multi-part setting of the Gloria, in which the choir acquitted themselves fabulously.

After Woodward's poignant arrangement of Henri Busser's "Berceuse," which has become the choir's Christmas signature piece, the concert ended with an audience sing-along at which Woodward asks former choir members in the audience to come up and join him and the current group of singers. They and the audience closed out the evening with stirring renditions of "The First Noel;" "O Come, All Ye Faithful;" "Silent Night;" and "Hark! The Herald Angles Sing."