Needing a little Christmas
The other day, I felt just like the folks in Auntie Mame, one of my favorite movies. You know the scene: Reeling from the Crash of '29, Mame decided to lift her spirits and those of her nephew, housekeeper and butler by celebrating Christmas a few weeks early. Reeling from the Crash of '08 (and, especially, its assorted repercussions for arts and journalism), I thought I could use a little Christmas myself ahead of time, so off I went to the warm and beautiful Basilica of the Assumption Tuesday night to hear the Baltimore Choral Arts Society.
This was, remarkably, the 25th annual "Christmas with Choral Arts" concert, and the 13th filmed for broadcast by ABC 2 (air dates are Dec. 24 at 11:35 p.m. and Dec. 25 at 9 a.m.). The ensemble's longtime director, Tom Hall, put together a brisk-paced mix of familiar and not-so-familiar repertoire, intermingled with various poetic and scriptural texts vividly recited by ABC 2's Mary Beth Marsden and Terry Owens.
For me, the best part of the concert was guest artist Janice Chandler-Eteme, whose radiant soprano voice gave the whole event an angelic lift. Her account of There is a Balm in Gilead was transifixingly beautiful and truly comforting. The rich, unusually moody arrangement by Evelyn Simpson-Curenton, played with considerable sensitivity by the orchestra, added to the effectiveness of the performance, which Hall shaped eloquently. Chandler-Eteme's singing of the poignant Laudate Dominum from Mozart's Vespers was another highpoint. In an aria from Bach's Cantata 51, the soprano likewise soared, and was smoothly partnered by trumpeter Langston Fitzgerald.
The chorus sounded in healthy shape all evening, producing a smooth tone and dynamic phrasing in the lushly romantic Pater Noster by Peteris Vasks. The singers even managed to make a couple of John Rutter's cloyingly cute carols palatable. Other than some uneven violin sounds in the overture to Tchaikovsky's Nutcraker, the orchestra held up its part of things firmly.
Personally, I could have done without all the readings and the audience sing-along stuff (just because I was seeking some holiday cheer didn't mean that I could entirtely stifle the Scrooge side of me), but the concert proved ultimately persausive and decidedly good for the spirits.
FILE PHOTO OF JANICE CHANDLER-ETEME