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Civic Chorus offers substantial Christmas music

By David Williams

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Daniel Pinkham's Christmas Cantata was the centerpiece of a substantial program by the Charleston Civic Chorus Sunday afternoon at the Baptist Temple. Pinkham, who died in 2006 at age 83, was a master of choral writing. In this piece, that mastery is set in relief by a quartet of trumpets and trombones along with an organ.

The opening movement showed a great interplay between the chorus and some incendiary interjections by the lead trumpet, played with panache by Jeremy Severn. The energetic music suddenly dissipates at the end to a quiet line for the chorus and a pungent soft chord for the brass and organ.

The middle movement hovers echoing lines for trumpets and chorus over long drones in the trombones -- played ably by Bobby Jenks and Garrett Maner, basses and organ. Here, trumpeter Joshua Richardson made bluesy commentaries on melodies by Severn and the women's voices.

The nifty finale had a vaguely antique sound -- think Renaissance dance music -- but shifting meters rooted it firmly in modern times. The combined forces made a fine performance of it.

Dan Forrest's "What Strangers are These" had an easy lilting quality. Violinist Alasha Al-Qudwah and guitarist Chuck Mohnacky joined pianist Randall Peters in weaving an accompaniment that drifted appealingly.

Canadian composer Eleanor Daley was represented by three pieces. The chorus sang "Angelus ad Virgenum" (The Angels visit the Virgin) with a light touch to the music's energetic mixed meters.

Her Psalm 100 for chorus, brass and organ had equilibrium among the parts. A setting of an old Scottish carol, "Balulalow," was soothingly phrased and muted in tone.

Conductor Truman Dalton shaped lithe vocal parts in Craig Courtney's "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night" while Peters added gently swirling eddies of color with the piano part.

The chorus was not accurate in all the lurching rhythms of Courtney's a cappella "Let There Be Light." The music was full of complex, dense chords that the singers did convey with solid assurance.

Ola Gjeilo's "Serenity" for a cappella chorus and violin was shyly calm. Al-Qudwah wove bits of sweet counterpoint above the sopranos' melodies.

The concert opened with Carl Mueller's "Salutation to the Dawn." The music sounds like it came from a 1940s film score. The performance was rhythmically scruffy.

The concert closed with Howard Helvey's rollicking setting of "Fum, Fum, Fum." Beverly Haskell joined Peters on the piano accompaniment.


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