Dec. 3, 2007 – Star Tribune: VocalEssence ushers in season with reverence
The show featured a world premiere that had no holiday connection, but was intense and heartfelt.
By William Randall Beard, Special to the Star Tribune
year’s installment of VocalEssence’s annual "Welcome Christmas!"
concerts is a bit of an oddity. The most extended music on the program
had nothing much to do with Christmas. But there was enough interesting
holiday fare, well presented, to satisfy the most ardent traditionalist.
world premiere of Conrad Susa’s "Love-Song Serenade" proved to be a
major work by the San Francisco-based composer. Susa’s music is
well-known to VocalEssence audiences, and these settings of poems by
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were commissioned by the chorus.
Only the first poem, "Snow-Flakes," had even a tenuous connection to the season, and that was ultimately a poem about grief.
by flute and harp, the settings have an antique feel, appropriate to
the 19th-century texts. And yet they bear the hallmark of Susa’s quirky
sensibility. He admits to loving Longfellow for his simplicity and
accessibility, traits that his cycle shares. The songs are by turns
intense, heartfelt and rapturous.
New seasonal music was featured
in the winners of the 10th-annual carol contest, both from California.
This year’s assignment was for carols for chorus and celesta. In "Sweet
Was the Song," Matthew Brown created a haunting medievalesque carol
dominated by the celesta. Stephen Main’s "The Darkest Midnight in
December" was an evocative setting of an 18th-century Irish poem that
captured the mystery of the season.
In honor of the state’s
sesquicentennial in 2008, the program focused on carols from the
nations of immigrants who originally settled in Minnesota. Included
were familiar ones, like "Lo, How a Rose e’re Blooming" (Germany),
"Carol of the Bells" (Ukraine) and "I Saw Three Ships" (Britain).
there were also national favorites from Poland, France, Norway and
Sweden. Sung in uniquely individual arrangements, these were unfamiliar
A revival of Minneapolis composer Paul W. Lohman’s
setting of the text "What Child Is This?" proved worthy of comparison
to the original tune, "Greensleeves." "In Silent Night" by Mitchell B.
Southall, blended hymnody with a 40s pop sensibility.
interest was "The Most Beautiful Rose," a Hans Christian Anderson fairy
tale, hauntingly set by Norwegian Egil Hovland and movingly narrated by
Katherine Ferrand, that showcased the women of the chorus.
director Philip Brunelle, the singers infused all the music with the
joy and reverence of the season, whether singing a cappella or
accompanied by full orchestra. The audience singing along with Handel’s
"Hallelujah Chorus" brought the event to an appropriately festive close.
William Randall Beard is a Minneapolis writer.
© 2007 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.