A cappella choir Cantus offers a radio-drama-like re-creation in ‘Christmas Truce of 1914’


Cantus performed at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. (Curtis Johnson)
December 6, 2013

The search for a Christmas-themed concert without all those tiresome holiday chestnuts continues each December. The a cappella choir Cantus presented an intriguing solution to this problem Thursday night in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. “All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914,” presented by the Fortas Chamber Music series, is a radio-drama-like re-creation of that Christmas night during World War I that brought German and British soldiers together in no man’s land.

This historical episode has featured as an affecting vignette before, in Steven Spielberg’s film “War Horse,” for example, but it was not clear that it could be adapted to fill an evening. Director Peter Rothstein of the Twin Cities’ Theater Latté Da managed it by drawing upon soldiers’ letters about the events. The words, including some by famous figures such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Winston Churchill, were read by three actors, interlaced with arrangements of carols and popular songs that set the scene. The musical performances, in harmonizations in the collegiate a cappella style, were pretty, although solo contributions did not always measure up to the polished ensemble sound.

Musically, the high point was a prelude that featured five carols arranged for male voices by Ralph Vaughan Williams, when he led a choir in his field ambulance unit during World War I. This is not to disparage the main event, which hit all of the emotional buttons it intended, just more because of the spoken content than its music.

Downey is a freelance writer.

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