Reviews ...

Polymnia serves up holiday delights

... grouping old and new popular songs

by Jackie Wattenberg

Last Saturday night's Polymnia concert in the stunning St. Mary's Church was surprising and impressive.
Crowds swarmed into the church on that chilly night, many expecting conductor Murrays Kidd's usual Christmas Pops with groupings of old and new popular songs and must have been surprised at the presentation of the finest old English and American music.

Added to the performance were two additional choirs, with contrasting styles - and all admirable. Conductor Kidd was in a joyful mood, leading his big choir of local residents into performances that swelled with warm floating tones that were enchanting.

St. Mary's mystical style and high ceilings seem to inspire choral sound, and our Polymnia never sounded better - fuller, balanced, inspired. The opening song by composer Randall Thompson promised a program of high quality. Two songs by Thompson turned poetically around poems by Robert Frost, "Stopping by a Woods on a Snowy Evening" and "The Road Not Taken," both with easeful, lifting tempos.

The Treble Chorus of New England, directed by Valerie J. Becker, was featured in a striking "Canticles of Light," composed by Bob Chilcott for Latin Text.

Polymnia now has a new Chamber Choir, a smaller group of members who were very effective in presenting three fairly modern pieces, the first a lovely "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" by contemporary British composer Elizabeth Poston. "Hodie, Christus Natus Est," with a certain daring, by a composer named Sweelnick, ended their group. It will be interesting to see how this new group develops, where and how often they perform.  

Some of the most stunning moments of this performance came with three selections by the Treble Chorus of New England led by director Becker in three marvelously contrasting pieces. First, a madly-dashing English "Carol of the Bells" that is always taken fast - but not this fast! There these youngsters stood calm and confident as the tempo raced at breakneck speed, their notes leaping and hopping in close and distant intervals and never floundering. Their tones were sure and unwavering as flutes, never a tremolo or even a vibrato accepted here - director Becker had them all in taut control.

After this tour de force came one of the loveliest carols. "In the Bleak Midwinter," a poem by Christina Rossetti, and of course they shifted immediately to calm and gentle expression. This youthful choral group, located in Andover, has vast experience around our country, but somehow we have missed them here.

It was fun to hear an old chestnut, "Over the River and through the Woods," sung with warm-hearted energy and another oldie, more classical, "Lo How a Rose ere Blooming," done with delicacy and that almost ethereal tone the chorus now possesses. One gift to those who came expecting Pops; the famous - or infamous "White Christmas"!

Only one solo in this concert, Joanne Colella Boag, whose voice had a well controlled warmth in and out of a rather stark song. She will be worth hearing in future concerts. A surprise element for several songs was a string quartet, always an added warmth to any performance.

As customary, conductor Kidd led us in several Christmas songs, words in the program. But he tricked us - his chorus sang "Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer" in Latin! A fun ending to a serious concert.

With recent growth and their full, well-rounded and enchanting quality, Polymnia deserves the finest music, such as we heard tonight.

We can look forward to an inspiring performance of "Mozart's great "Requiem" next March.

Reprinted with permission from the Melrose Free Press December 12, 2013..

January 3, 2014

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