The Sacramento Choral Calendar
River City Chorale
Ring the Bells of Christmas - December 3, 2017
by Terrie Carrozzella
The River City Chorale presented the third of its three holiday concerts to a full house on Sunday, December 3rd, at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Citrus Heights. Audience members were warmly greeted as they entered the festively decorated venue, which was decked out in blue and ivory. The orchestra, dressed in formal attire, rumbled through their warm-ups in preparation for the evening to come.
The chorus entered from the side aisles, dressed impeccably in black with teal accents. “Sing We Now of Christmas,” arranged by Jay Althouse, was the Chorale’s opening number. Gorgeous sopranos rang through the room with their well-blended sound. Initially, it was a little difficult to hear the full chorus due to the orchestra’s volume, but they quickly settled into a clean and crystal-clear interpretation with an ideal balance.
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The second piece, “Gloria” by Randol Alan Bass, was full of drama from its onset. The adagio was solid and glorious, with the alto section contributing to the rich sound. While the a cappella transition was a bit hesitant, the dramatic ending more than made up for it. We knew the Chorale experienced a huge success with this song when a child in the audience yelled out “thank you!” at its conclusion.
Next came “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson. A crisp duet between the soprano and alto sections, this piece had a clearly set tempo, thanks to the outstanding work of the alto section. Lovely phrase endings complemented the excellent decrescendo at the end of this piece.
“A Maiden Most Gentle,” arranged by Andrew Carter, offered an interesting melody sung against an eighth-note patterned background. Vocal parts blended cleanly. The true stars of this piece were again, the sopranos, whose sailing notes filled the church.
Not to be outdone, the tenors and basses offered a boisterous beginning for the next selection, “Jingle Bells” by James Pierpont. They gave a solid, well-balanced sound combined with lively interpretation for this fun and cheery piece.
The chorus switched gears with “Happy Holidays Medley”, which was a mash-up of three well-known pieces: “Happy Holidays,” “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Arranged by Director Richard Morrissey, this jazzy mix treated the audience to a well-produced backbeat, and truly showed the flexibility of the group.
The audience joined in the festivities by singing along to four popular holiday selections: “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Away in a Manger,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” which rounded out the first half of this concert.
After a brief intermission, the Golden State Brass ensemble got the ball re-rolling with Handel’s “Joy to the World.” Highly skilled horn players took on this peppy and challenging piece, with its thrilling trills and familiar, yet joyful chords.
The ensemble continued with a surprise rendition of “The First Noel.” Crisp and clear tones were evident in this unique arrangement, which featured each instrument’s unique sound. A lovely trumpet duet and solo French horn, while not perfectly in synch, gave the audience goose bumps with the soulful rendition.
The River City Chamber Choir, which consists of 17 members of the full Chorale, shared their rendition of Dietrich Buxtehude’s “The Little Newborn Jesus Child.” Beginning with a gorgeous harpsichord solo, this well-blended piece featured deep, resonant basses, balanced out by bright and lovely sopranos. Difficult passages were sung with grace and ease. The well-delivered dynamics - not always evident in a group this size - were handled admirably.
Switching things up, the Choir continued with “Mary Had a Baby,” arranged by Malcolm Sargent. This stirring spiritual showed off the flexibility of the Choir. Its off-the-beat clapping did not detract from the strength of the music and vocal lines.
The Choir rounded out their performance with “The Christmas Song.” Well known by most as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” this arrangement by Mark Hayes offered a rich, solid and elegantly lifted sound.
The full Chorale returned with “Raise Your Glad Voices.” This Wilmington and Wade rendition featured an energized, full sound, but the real treat was a stunning final chord that sailed through the room. A few gasps could be heard from the audience as the piece came to its conclusion.
The final piece of the evening, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” arranged by Harry Simeone, featured fine storytelling, vocal texture, and cool tempo changes that were handled with ease. The waltz tempo was well delivered, fun and energetic. A few brief solos demonstrated why this group, as a whole, is so accomplished. The River City Chorale, along with its affiliate groups, put on a memorable performance full of holiday joy and spirit.
Reviewer Terrie Carrozzella is a professional marketer, designer, and blog author. She is the Musical Director of Sierra Gold Chorus, Auburn, CA, and has been a member of Sweet Adelines International for 22 years. She has sung in three award-winning choruses and several quartets. Terrie attended Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, where she studied music composition.