The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Folsom Lake College Concert Choir & College Chorus
Hallelujah ...'Tis the Season - December 8, 2015
by Diane Boul
The Folsom Lake College Winter Choral and Vocal Recital, titled “Hallelujah …’tis the Season,” was held in Scott-Skillman Recital Hall (Stage 3) at Harris Center in Folsom at Folsom Lake College. The choir presented two concerts this evening, one at 6:00 p.m. and one at 8:00 p.m. This review covers the latter. Stage 3 is a small, acoustically rich, intimate theater setting which was packed with concert-goers anticipating what proved to be a delightful evening of song.
In the first half of the program, Director/Conductor Dr. David A. Newnham’s choir presented Benjamin Britten’s cantata, A Ceremony of Carols with 10-12 movements, depending on how you count, including the solo harp interlude. Of the texts used, one is from a Gregorian chant for Christmas Eve and is used as the processional and the recessional, four are anonymous Medieval poems (one has two distinct parts), and the remaining five are by poems of the Tudor period.
(Click here to open the concert program in a new window.)
Since most of the text is from the Middle English, Early Modern English, and Latin languages, we weren’t expected to understand the words. However, I wanted to hear the consonants and, therefore, the words. It was, however, helpful to have the translation as well as apropos concert notes. This is a complex piece, both musically and lyrically, and I’m glad this director didn’t shy away from presenting this advanced piece. In fact the whole program was a presentation of challenging songs, some more than others.
Overall, I felt that this concert was well executed, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. For the most part, the blend was pleasant and the dynamics were appropriate. The vowels were mostly well formed and the voice parts were balanced. There were a few technique issues that presented themselves throughout the program that I think are important. A few singers stood out because they anticipated the downbeat, so entered too early. They were probably just a little excited, because they were doing such a good job! A few voices stood out from the rest, disrupting the blend. The diction could have been improved; the vowels were mostly uniform, but the consonants weren’t always crisp. This situation greatly improved in the second half. Good breath control and producing rich sounds in all registers is a constant job that choirs work on. It’s worth the work, because it makes the legatos smoother and the high notes mellower, not to mention improving the dynamics. More expression was needed by most members. There was a better connection with the audience in the second half because of the better expression.
The processional, “Hodie Christus natus est,” is deceptively difficult, because it requires the choir to move and sing a cappella in unison (meaning to sound like one voice, which is not easy). Ably conducted by student Assistant Conductor, Kyle Baldwin, there were a few voices that were too loud, but otherwise it was nicely done. “Wolcom Yole!” Is a song to welcome the Christ Child, and it was sung with gusto. “There is no Rose” is a beautiful piece with lovely dissonances and the choir sang it well.
The first of two lullabies was “That yongë child” lovingly sung by mezzo soprano, Ashley Arbis. “Balulalow,” the second lullaby, was given a beautiful clear lilt by soprano, Mae Galusha.
“As dew in Aprille,” a canon of all voices, was very effectively sung to give the musical image of dew falling on the grass, a metaphor for Mary giving birth without pain. Another canon, “The Little Babe” is difficult, but the choir added one voice part on top of the other to create a “stretto,” a technique of overlapping voices in a fugue, with the imitation voice(s) starting before the subject voice has finished, creating a cacophony of sound which is very dramatic and, in this case, indicates a flourish of triumph of Christ over Satan. Very effective, choir!!
The solo harp Interlude gave the audience an opportunity to hear the exquisite mastery of guest artist, Dr. Beverly Wesner-Hoehn. This solo is an elaboration of the chant, “Hodie,” that begins and ends the cantata. Dr. Wesner-Hoehn is very much in demand in the area; you are likely to see her often.
“In Freezing Winter Night” is possibly the most difficult movement of this musical masterwork, incredibly intense and mysterious with dissonant harmonies. Tenor, Jeremy Sandoval, gave a really nice performance, with a lush, resonant ending by the choir.
“Spring Carol” was sung as a duet by Rachel Travis, soprano, and Ashley Arbis, mezzo soprano. Their voices blended nicely, and the delivery was gentle.
The choir produced a strong “Deo Gracias” to finish Brittain’s “A Ceremony of Carols.” The entrances of “Deo Gracias” piled up in another “stretto,” creating a very exuberant finale.
The Recessional, “Hodie,” showed a nice blend as the women left the stage followed by the men to end the first half of the program. After this wonderfully inspiring presentation, we were looking forward to more.
After the stage was reset, the choir opened the second half with a boisterous entry to “Rhythm of Life,” from Sweet Charity. It was excellently done with choreography and bold expression, accompanied by pianist and composer/arranger, Shelley Rink, playing with two hands an accompaniment that was written for four. There was a mechanical glitch in the middle of this number which required the chorus to stop and pick up the piece in the middle. I only mention this because I want to comment on how professionally they handled this snafu, showing their exceptional training. The situation barely interrupted the piece and did not unduly distract the choir; they stood still and simply went on, right on pitch. The legato section in the middle was so smooth. The piece was memorized and their diction was perfect. Excellent!
Before explaining the four Hallelujahs that we were about to hear, Artistic Director Newnham took a few minutes to tell us about his choir and to express his pride and thanks to them, as well as to the audience for supporting their efforts. Dr. Newnham seems to be a very positive and upbeat director, which is reflected in the work of his choir.
“Hallelujah, Amen,” from Judas Maccabaeus was delivered at a good tempo and was well done, except for a few entrances that were anticipated. “Hallelujah,” from Beethoven’s only oratorio, Mount of Olives was appropriately rhythmic and the voice parts seemed well balanced. The famous oratorio, Messiah, gives us the most famous “Hallelujah Chorus.” There was good strength in the soprano section, but sometimes the women overpowered the men and I heard too many Ahh-le-lu-ias instead of Hah-le-lu-ias. Otherwise, it was uplifting and a pleasure to hear. “Hallelujah” from Shrek ended the set. It was very pretty; greater expression and perhaps more contrast in dynamics would have improved this performance, but after back to back performances, the choir was probably a bit tired.
[A mistake on the program lists “Rhythm of Life” twice; it was sung only once, although I would have been pleased to hear it again.]
The chorus ended with a heartfelt “Now We Thank You One and All,” an English round, sung a cappella. We might have been inclined to sing this back to them for brightening our evening with a very full program -- in only one hour. This was a most enjoyable evening. Thank you, Folsom Lake College and Dr. Newnham. Programming and performances like this will undoubtedly attract new singers!