Cathedral Church of St. Luke
Dec. 16, 2018
by Christopher Hyde
The Renaissance Voices Christmas concert has long been the highlight of the season for those looking for that still, small voice amidst the hyperbole and commercialization. This year’s programs, two concerts Saturday and Sunday at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, were no exception. As a bonus they included a new work by director Harold Stover: “For Christmas Day,” setting verses by Bishop Joseph Hall (1574-1656).
In style and content it belongs to the same family as the early works in which the a cappella choir excels and seems to have been written especially for them. The polyphonic voices, however, converge on some fascinating perfect intervals that would never have occurred to Palestrina ((1525-1594) but give the work an exquisite touch of dissonance. It received a standing ovation from the large audience Sunday at St. Luke’s. (The ushers ran out of programs.)
Three other contemporary works appeared on the program, the first of which was a companion piece to an early plainsong, “Conditor alme siderum,” by Italian composer Carlotta Ferrari (b. 1975).
“The Shepherds sing, and shall I silent be?,“ by American composer Tom Mueller (b. 1985), was a devoted setting of verses by George Herbert (1593-1633), which were first read aloud by Kirk Read.
I found the sung version of Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my Shepherd…”) by Patricia Van Ness (b. 1951) of Cambridge (Mass.), less effective than some of her earlier works performed by the choir in previous concerts. It is part of a project to musik all 150 Psalms. She would be advised to use the King James versions, which are poetry, instead of the wooden, pedantic and condescending translations of the Revised Standard Bible.
The spoken selections this year were outstanding, including Yeats’ horrifying “The Second Coming,” read by Bernie Horowitz, E.B. White’s “Christmas Wishes” by Woody Howard and Steve Ryan, the aforementioned “The Shepherds Sing,” and Christina Rosetti’s “A Christmas Carol, read by Sarah Potter.
The choir continued its exploration of Neun Advent-Motetten, by Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901), which should be heard more often around this time of year.
About the Renaissance Voices performance of works by Palestrina, Francesco Soriano (c.1548-1621), and Andrea Gabrieli (1532-1585) there is little to say. except that they filled the cathedral with glorious sound up to its vaulted ceiling, just as the composers intended.
Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.