Pioneer Press: VocalEssence’s Christmas show has just the right mix of fresh, familiar
By Rob Hubbard
Special to the Pioneer Press
December 8, 2010
We need a little Christmas. But especially just a little when the holiday is three weeks
away. No one wants to fall prey to holiday overkill in early December, reaching Christmas relieved that the onslaught of oft-repeated carols and seasonal songs will be out of earshot for 11 months.
Philip Brunelle is doing his part to freshen up your holiday listening experience. The artistic director of VocalEssence fills his choirs’ annual “Welcome Christmas” concerts with new and seldom-performed works, and this year’s soothingly solemn program is among the strongest they’ve presented in the past decade. Launched at
Apple Valley’s Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church on Saturday night, the program shone a lovely light on the talent of the 117-voice chorus and 32-member Ensemble Singers for creating beautiful harmonies.
Rather than build the concerts around one lengthy centerpiece, Brunelle chose to weave together three strands: Enhancing the harmonies with the sound of a handbell choir (Twin Cities Bronze), serving a smorgasbord of Swedish songs and singing five carols that were voted the most popular in VocalEssence’s repertoire by visitors to its website.
The last of those strands may sound like a recipe for the familiar, but the arrangements offered were anything but. Jan Sandstrom’s take on “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” was a richly textured one, laying the tune atop an ambient hum with a sometimes-troubling undercurrent. And a version of “Still, Still, Still” by Chip Davis (in town this weekend with his group, Mannheim Steamroller) set the reverent tone early on.
Two new carols received their world premieres, with Mark Shepperd’s “Come Join Their Song” an exhilarating standout. And Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” and Paul Lohman’s “What Child” were equally lovely. But most
intriguing of all was the sweet finale, Daniel Kantor’s “Night of Silence,” on which the audience was invited to add a descant of “Silent Night” to the final verse. The warm layers of music were an ideal combination of the adventurously fresh and comfortingly familiar.
Rob Hubbard can be reached at email@example.com.
Who: The VocalEssence Chorus and Ensemble Singers with conductor Philip Brunelle and Twin Cities Bronze
What: “Welcome Christmas”
When and where: 4 p.m. today and next Sunday,
Plymouth Congregational Church, 1919 LaSalle Ave., Minneapolis; 7:30
p.m. Friday, Normandale Lutheran Church, 6100 Normandale Road, Edina;
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Trinity Lutheran Church, 115 N. Fourth St.,
Tickets: $40-$10, available at 612-371-5656 or vocalessence.org
Capsule: Beautiful and reverent, but far from familiar.