Pioneer Press: VocalEssence offers the sounds of Christmas, from the north
By Rob Hubbard, Special to the Pioneer Press
An Arctic winter deserves some Christmas music from up around the Arctic Circle. They know something about staying warm on cold nights in the Nordic lands of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, and Friday night’s first of local choral powerhouse VocalEssence’s “Welcome Christmas” concerts provided plenty of thick, warm harmonies to enwrap you. Actually, the program led by conductor Philip Brunelle spends as much time in England as in its neighbors to the north, for the first half of the evening was given over to the world premiere of a new cantata by Alan Bullard, “A Light in the Stable.” It’s a very intriguing piece, and audience members at Apple Valley’s Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church on Friday night will be able to say that they helped premiere it. For it involves a fair amount of crowd-sourced caroling, and there’s nothing like a full-throated “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” to oxygenate the system.
However, the strongest sections in Bullard’s piece came when he created a sound world all his own on the spare, hypnotic “Sing lullaby!” (kudos to soprano soloist JoAnna Swantek) and the lush and lovely “A Light for Today.” Local actor Katherine Ferrand offered expressive readings of poems that were also distinctly musical.