Sunday, December 14, 2014

concert review: Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale

This chorus continues to get better under Elena Sharkova's direction. And with Karen S. as a member, they can't lose.

This was their Christmas concert, held in the California Theatre instead of the Mission - a really good idea - and with a very small orchestra - also a good idea. The centerpiece was John Rutter's Magnificat, probably the most outright cheerful large-scale piece of religious choral music I've ever heard. Rutter doesn't have the spiritual intensity of Tavener or the sheer beauty of Lauridsen, but he does have warmth and geniality. He's also a fully competent choral-orchestral composer. He knows how to handle both ensembles with clarity and keep them from getting in each other's way. The chorus writing is mostly smooth, the orchestral rather jangly, yet they fit.

Unfortunately the soprano chosen as soloist had an approach to pitch of "I wonder as I wander," but otherwise, good show from both ensembles.

Most of the remainder of the program was carols and carol medleys by or arranged by English composers. More Rutter, some Holst and VW and John Gardner. Especially cherishable for Holst's setting of Rossetti's "In the Bleak Midwinter," my choice of most beautiful carol ever, and VW's rumpus arrangement of the Wassail song.

Near the end, the program got a bit fancier and more American with an old Chanticleer medley of spirituals, which the chorus managed to give a little honest swing to, and a setting of "A Visit from St. Nicholas," something I'd never heard before in musical form. According to Wikipedia the music is by one Ken Darby, though this name isn't credited in the concert's program. It adds a final verse, an altered reprise of the opening. The song was rendered with a fair amount of acting out, including having individual choristers leap up every time St. Nick mentions the name of one of his reindeer.

A few audience singalongs of well-known carols, also, with an assistant conductor - a boy of about 12 named Leo, a student of Sharkova's I guess, with lots of presence vocally but not so much physically - to lead the audience, who didn't pay as much attention to him as they should have.

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