Reviews ...

Good cheer, good music in Polymnia's holiday concert

... the entrancing beauty of voices raised in song ...

by Jackie Wattenberg/ About The Arts

The following article by SilverStringer Jackie Wattenberg is re-printed from the Thursday, December 23 issue of the Melrose Free Press -- with their permission and cooperation, of course.

The Polymnia Choral Society's Christmas concert brought delightful music, the entrancing beauty of voices raised in song, the season's welcome to the bright sheen of brass plus a superb cello here and there in a program in St. Mary's Church.

Conductor Michelle Graveline deserves kudos for bringing such extra talent to her vocal ensemble for this holiday event, that again includes the unworried musical artistry of accompanist Dorothy Travis. The stunning decor of St. Mary's Church, both dignified and colorful, seemed a partner in the season's musical inspiration. Although the sound was good rather near the front of the church, it seemed to carry more brilliantly as we moved to the very rear seats.

Teacher, writer, musician Jackie Wattenberg.

The music range, as usual, from early to contemporary, foreign color to American-inspired folk music beginning with "In Dulci Jubilo by Praetorius", 1549-1611. The elongated lines were punctuated by the brass soloists, but somehow, probably with the balancing of the conductor, they did not overpower the vocal sound. "O Magnum Mysterium" by contemporary Morten Lauridsen trailed a legato serenity and a Welsh "Lullaby" issued some intriguing dark and close harmonies well-projected by all voices.

One of the most captivating songs was "Riu, Riu, Chiu" by an anonymous Spanish composer. Lively in repeated minor phrases and rhythms but with a sacred message, it was given fine spirit and energy by the chorus. An arrangement of two Appalachian carols - "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and "Cherry Tree Carol" - by New England composer Gwyneth Walker took surprising turns, some interesting, some far from the original mood, like the almost martial-like staccato demanding "Go! Go! Go!"

Ralph Vaughn Williams' symphonic "Fantasia on Christmas Carols" was a highlight of the evening, majestic and rich in texture. Baritone Carl Geller offered airs with easy range and good articulation. And here was that superb cellist, young Susanna Porte, whose tone is rich and beautiful, as well as full-bodied. What an unexpected pleasure to find that fine talent adding to the choral evening.

Somewhere in "Two Bell Carols" Dorothy Travis leaped into animated piano dominance, frisky and enlivening. Sopranos were especially lovely in the Shaker song, "The Gift." One song's start was a bit tentative but the choral sound all evening was firm, sonorous and quite balanced, notable since the group is down to just six tenors - any tenors reading this please note. Shortage of tenors around most towns is, unfortunately, typical.

Overall, the evening provided a bright, uplifting note to the holiday season and made us anticipate Polymnia's next performance.

Note: Jackie Wattenberg is a Melrose resident who covers the arts for the Free Press.

January 7, 2005    

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