Monday, December 10, 2012

A Christmas Concert

On Saturday we went to Red Deer for the second concert of the season, this one titled, "A British Isles Christmas."  It was given in the Gaetz Ave. United Church, rather than the auditorium at the Red Deer Community College, as is usual.

We arrived early as we know it fills up well ahead of time, and seating is a little tight.  There were some people who came later and had trouble finding a seat.  Perhaps even some of them were turned away, which must have been a very big disappointment.  But it seemed to us that using ushers would have solved a lot of the problem.  People had to wander in and find their own seats in the pews.  At one point a young man made a request for people to create whatever room they could and raise their hands to indicate an available seat, but this was not followed up on.  There was room for another person in the section of pew where we were sitting, and also two rows ahead of us.  A little organization would have gone a long way toward solving this problem!

The concert featured the Calgary Boys' Choir and began with the beautiful setting of "Once in Royal David's City" which begins the Service of Lessons and Carols performed by the choir of King's College, Cambridge every year.  A very young boy, perhaps 8 years old, with a beautiful, pure voice sang the first verse solo, unaccompanied.  The choir remained at the rear of the auditorium for this entire song, and then processed in singing the Hodie of Benjamin Britten's A Ceremony of Carols.  The rest of the Britten was sung from the platform.

I was not familiar with this music, and I think Britten needs familiarity to be really appreciated and enjoyed.  But I did enjoy it on this first hearing, particularly the harp accompaniment, and the harp solo number in the middle of the series of pieces.  It was unfortunate that the audience there is not as sophisticated as it is enthusiastic: they clapped after each piece in the Ceremony (well, except for the harp solo).  Quite disruptive to the flow!  But the conductor just waited with his back to the audience each time, arms raised to begin the next movement, not acknowledging the applause.

Gustav Holst's "In the Bleak Midwinter" was listed second on the program, but they sang it after the Britten.  The audience loved the Boys' Choir, but I was a little disappointed.  In the Britten I could decipher only about 9 words, all in Latin.  The rest I couldn't make out.  I think the acoustics in that fairly large church (seats about 550 and is tall with a wooden ceiling) must have changed dramatically from the (I'm supposing) afternoon rehearsal, when the church was empty, to the concert when it was packed with people in winter coats.  Usually boys' choirs have excellent diction, and they may well have had that, but at the performance it was not evident.

They gave us an extra number just before intermission: Choir and small orchestra in four spirited verses of Joy to the World.

After intermission the orchestra played a traditional Irish carol, Curoo, Curoo -- Carol of the Birds, which had a very interesting rhythm.  It seemed to be in 6/8, but with the occasional 9/8 measure, plus 4 measure phrases with a 5 or 6 measure phrase thrown in every now and then.  Very chipper and bright.

Then came the most interesting (to me) music on the program: an original composition by the conductor, Claude Lapalme, written as accompaniment to Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales.  The Red Deer Mayor (last name of Flewelling, which I believe is Welsh) read the text and did it masterfully!  The orchestra accompanied him.  It was superb!  I think the music deserves to become a classic.  I loved it!

For the final number the orchestra played "Auld Lange Syne" and the audience was invited to sing along when the brass entered.

A memorable evening and a really fine and enjoyable Christmas concert!

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