The Vancouver Cantata Singers’ Christmas Reprise is always the highlight of the Season of Advent. This year, the choir’s 19th offering of this wonderful tradition, was for me, a real highpoint in the years I have been attending these concerts.
The concert opens with, appropriately, In the Dark Night, a Ukrainian Lullaby, featuring the men of the choir. Naturally, to hear this Ukrainian work evoking the beauty of the Christ child hits an emotional chord, considering the trauma and destruction that the country had been faced with this past year. Both in this work and the next, Judith Weir’s My Guardian Angel, featuring the women of the choir, remind us of the vocal excellence of this choral ensemble.
As ever, the VCS’s Christmas Reprise offers traditional Christmas works, albeit in new arrangements, as well as pieces that are heard less often. Mendelssohn’s Weihnachten, Orlando di Lasso’s difficult Bone Jesu, verbum Patris, and Sweelinck’s Hodie Christus natus est, were particularly euphonious, and truly demonstrates the choir’s sensitivity to text, and the ensemble’s absolutely uniformity in diction and enunciation. The fast-moving Ding Dong! Merrily on High and the Carol of the Bells show off the group’s virtuosity. In Carol of the Bells, the women of the choir especially sang with an exhilarating lightness, and uncannily evokes the timbre of the bells.
There were of course timeless works that we know and love, like See Amid the Winter’s Snow, O Tannenbaum, and Silent Night, all in beautiful arrangements, in performances that truly remind us that “Christ is born in Bethlehem.” All these, and the two different arrangements of Ave Maria – one by Nathaniel Dett and the other by Franz Biebl (a favourite of the choir’s, I think), transport us away from the hustle and bustle that come with December.
Saturday’s concert once again establishes the Vancouver Cantata Singers, under Artistic Director Paula Kremer, as the Vancouver’s premiere choral ensemble. What a treasure we have in our very own city!
The full house at Vancouver’s Holy Rosary Cathedral reminds me that, in spite of all we hear about living in a post-Christian world, in spite of the world’s every effort to push Christmas to the margins of our society and our consciousness, that people still want to be reminded of the love of God made manifest in Christ, the Trinitarian love of God, and the mystical body of Christ.
And that there has to be more to Christmas than finishing our shopping in time.