Christmas music in its infinite variety was presented by Pro Musica during the weekend, in a three-pronged program of mass, oratorio and carols.
Each year this group equals or surpasses its previous seasonal outing, opening the wonder of Christmas to view, and never has the ensemble been more lustrous or the music more affectingly beautiful. Much credit goes to artistic director Peggy Hansen for helping to locate interesting repertory and adding just the right, tasteful staging.The choir was bigger than usual at almost 40 members, with fine tone, sections ideally balanced, unisons beautifully articulated, and a general freedom and relaxation. Indeed these choristers are a connoisseur's pleasure to hear, and a crowning achievement of Nielson's many years of experience and good taste.
In Vivaldi's "Gloria," the singers operated within the classic range of the Italian baroque. They took a little while to warm up to the smoothest ensemble, but soon the short, pointed choruses were falling out with refined colorations and dynamics.
Solos for this piece and all evening were capably handled by choir members, and Kaye Watkins was notable for her accurate florid style and freedom in the "Domine Deus." The altos singing "Qui sedes ad dexteram" were as unified as one voice.
After a quarter-century preparing the Utah Oratorio Society for its annual "Messiah," Nielson presented a few choruses and solos with a difference, from the Coopersmith edition, based on the first London performance of 1743, resulting in a new slant on "Messiah."
Unfamiliar choruses sat well on the group, which was about the size of that which Handel used in his premiere. Nielson kept undeviating tempos through the florid passages, as the chorus lightly traversed "His Yoke is Easy," "He Trusted in God," "Let All the Angels" and "Break Forth Into Joy" with a classic spareness refreshing in its simplicity.
Extended arias and recitatives in unusual rhythms included augmented passages for soprano beginning with "There Were Shepherds" by Megan Miller, "He Shall Feed His Flock" and "Come Unto Him" in quick tempo by Mary Ann Dresher and Meloni Gundersen, and authoritative recitatives by Scott Miller, all well-sung.
A group of treasurable Christmas carols (all sung from memory) opened with the "Gloria" from Dave Brubeck's "La Fiesta de la Posada" - a festive, swinging, big-scale number, as much Latin as jazzy in its connotations, with members of the University of Utah Percussion Ensemble led by Douglas Wolf.
"Out of the Orient Crystal Skies" by Richard Zgdava conveyed mideastern mystery with its piquant modalities and tinkling bells. The sopranos sang Max Reger's "Virgin's Slumber Song" in pure and luscious unison, "Go Tell It on the Mountain" gained vitality from a full-scale arrangement by John Rutter, and the delightful "If Anybody Ask You Who I Am," a spiritual arranged by E.Z. Levine, was sung with saucy charm and swinging hand gestures.
From Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem came the Hosanna, with tenor solo by Thomas Pike; the Dies Irae, by Kay Watkins, and the ethereal Pie Jesu, flawlessly sung by Camille Cook, David Cook and Jessica Watkins. Children of Pro Musica processed for a lovely candlelit climax in "Quiet Night, Wondrous Night," and finally "Silent Night."
- THE 26TH ANNUAL CHRISTMAS FESTIVAL at the U. brought a large crowd to Kingsbury Hall on Friday and Saturday nights, for songs of the A Cappella Choir, Concert Chorale and Utah Singers.
Highlights of the program were such combined numbers as "The First Noel" arranged by Rutter with rollicking Kurtzweil synthesizer, and "I Saw Three Ships," arranged by Wilberg, with many percussion accents. Vaughan Williams' "Wassail Song," the swingy Latin "Rui, Rui, Rui" Charles Ives' lovely wistful "Christmas Carol," and "Some Children See Him" by Burt also stood out in the attractive program.