Reviews ...

Polymnia Christmas program draws record crowd

... another stirring presentation for the season

by Jackie Wattenberg

If more people had tried to come to Polymnia Choral Society’s Christmas program last Saturday night, held in the First Congregational Church, they would have had to sit on the steeple.

More and more, Melrosians seem to realize how lucky we are, in this time of trials by war and financial crisis, to have both a symphony orchestra and a choral society. Add the Beethoven Society and Outloud at the Beebe, an open mike event, and we can feel blest in any season.

Young Murray Kidd is a conductor who appears dedicated to bringing to his programs the finest in music, this time a renowned “Gloria” by Vivaldi, the early 18th century Venetian composer whose most often played work is his unique “The Seasons.” The “Gloria” is a serious, resolute work that maintains a dominance of energy, vitality and passion. The chorus resounded with full energy and volume, often richly under-girded by the baritones, seemingly darker than ever. The work held such a level of fortissimo energy that solos by soprano and contralto were welcome contrasts.

Mr. Kidd found two beautiful voices in mezzo-soprano Eileen Christiansen and soprano Glenda Landavazo. Their early duet was full of fast-flowing runs that they dashed off with exciting vitality and silken tones, their voices dramatically stirring in combination. Ms. Christiansen is a member of the chorus and Ms. Landavazo a voice student of the conductor. Each had solos that were equally affecting. Ms. Christiansen, formerly singing as a soprano, has lowered her voice to a mezzo of velvet-dark tones that flowed elegantly through her solo passages. The soprano also performed her arpeggios and high notes with confident pace and lovely tone. One thing always to remember with accelerating runs is to keep the volume on high climactic passages from bursting into increased volume.

The acoustics in the church, a very friendly environment in its contemporary design, are not the best. That may be why there were no brass instruments to brighten the holiday mood as have been highlights in the past, but would have blasted in the limited space. The organ is quite good, and Dorothy Travis kept a merry pace throughout the evening in accompanying the rhythmically uncompromising Mr. Kidd. Her “Overture to The Messiah” was beautifully done, a relaxing change of voice from the energies of the chorus.

Handel’s “Messiah” is never boring no matter how often we hear it, and the chorus did handsomely in a group of excerpts. The two soloists again did very well in their solos, Ms. Christiansen with “O Thou that Tellest Good Tidings to Zion,” and the soprano in “And Suddenly, there was with the Angel.”

Mr. Kidd balanced the serious with lighter holiday fare — a group of “Seven Joys of Christmas,” each from a different national source. Here was a chance for fun and frolic with charming melodies and rhythmic energy. A Japanese “The Joy of the New Year” was a surprising delight, the French “Joy of the Bells” was frisky, and the Spanish “Fum fum fum,” gaining popularity each Christmas season, was rhythmically captivating.

Daniel Pinkham, a composer born in nearby Lynn who studied at Phillips Academy and at Harvard with Walter Piston and Aaron Copland, was represented by a gracefully flowing, rather pastoral “Evergreen.” Pinkham, who died in 2006, was the longtime music director emeritus at Boston’s King’s Chapel, and was a prolific composer whose music is not widely heard.

It seemed that the chorus has increased its power and balance of voices, and certainly projects the music’s message under this dynamic young conductor. Surprisingly, there were a few moments when the chorus slipped a little flat, possibly due to the erratic acoustics.

At the choral program’s end, the full house of enthusiastic listeners opened the music given them with the program — the “Hallelujah Chorus,” plus a few popular Carols — and offered them with great gusto!

And, as always after Polymnia’s concerts, all enjoyed a long table of harmonious delicacies and hot cider before heading out into the chilling December air.

Jackie Wattenberg is a Melrose resident and is the arts correspondent for the Free Press.

This article first appeared in the Melrose Free Press, December 11, 2008, and is published here with permission of that newspaper.

January 2, 2009

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