Reviews ...

Unique Holiday Concert Charms Audience


Jackie Wattenberg

Saturday evening was more like a soft early evening in autumn, not a hint in thr air of White Christmas.

But that starry holiday grew nearer with the Holiday concert of the Polymnia Choral Society in the modern-styled Melrose First Congregational church, filled almost to capacity with spirited supporters of this 46-year-old chorus.

Once more with James E. Reyes on the podium, dignified and thoughtful, the chorus sounded as good, or better, than ever. The women's voices rose purely as always, and the men's voices resounded more fully and effectively. New compositions, a quartet of trumpets, old and new songs colored the program.

The voices all folded beautifully over and under each other in a group of motets by Praetorius, 1571-1621, with an impressive crescendo of the men's voices, and all of lovely melodic lines. This was followed by a Christmas Hymn with a subdued start, rippling themes endng finally in an exquisite pianissimo.

A "world Premier" is always an attention getter. Charles Turner, composer in his forties, was there to speak engagingly and amusingly about his Gloria Nativitatis for four trumpets and organ. The piece, he said, was intended to show both the "glory and terror" of the shepherd upon hearing of the holy baby's birth. As he suggested, the first section, with trumpets only in weaving mellifluous blend, could resemble "the aurora borealis." When the organ joined for conflict and tension, it seemed a separate unit, though arresting.

Turner, whose speaking voice evidenced his career as singer in Boston, created some distinctive lovely impressionist effects that provoke curiosity about other compositions of his. The four trumpeters, who brighten the whole program, are Geoffrey Shamu, Eric Linquist, Daniel Duncan and Joe Thighe.

The Society's regular pianist, Terry Halco, also presented his "Jubilate" for two trumpets and organ, a vigorous work with jazzy rhythms that recalled organ works of Widor. He also played an organ solo, forceful Variations for Organ on "Sussex Carol," by Raymond Hann.

One of the loveliest carols of the evening was a less traditional version of "In the Bleak Midwinter" by Harold Duke, who died in 1976. The gently-lilting melody highlighted an unusual soprano tone of Christina Lord, a voice of a little vibrato that shone like a golden beam of light to signal a heavenly event. There also was a solo by Charles Donaldson, whose baritone has a quality of great appeal, and which I suspect holds even greater power.

It was interesting to hear a "Magnificat in G" by Pachelbel, who as Reyes mentioned, is famed for this broadly popular, and beautiful, "Canon." Not so striking as the "Canon," it was pleasant and offered the choir chances for bits of fugue tossing.

Lord, Susan Stetson and Elaine Steblecki all were a pleasure to hear in the final work. John Rutter's "Gloria." It held the customary Rutter dissonance and excitelent, syncopations at times reminding of Carl Orff. There was a hint of struggle, whether the music's intent of the singer's challenge it's hard to say.

The chorus, Mr. Reyes and the soloists were bestowed a standing ovation, well deserved for an evening of welcoming Christmas, with not a measure of tired music.

December 11, 1999

Originally published in
Reprinted in the Melrose Mirror with permission of the Melrose Free Press.

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