Celebrating the Season, Norway Style

J. Reilly Lewis's Cathedral Choral Society performed in
J. Reilly Lewis's Cathedral Choral Society performed in "The Joy of Christmas" at the Washington Cathedral. (Cathedral Choral Society)
Monday, December 12, 2005

The harmoniousness of the Christmas message does not always translate to interesting music. Consonance without dissonance quickly becomes dull. So the Cathedral Choral Society's variegated program of mostly modern settings of seasonal music was a pleasant surprise.

"The Joy of Christmas: A Norwegian Festival" was one of many recent events marking Norway's 100 years of independence. J. Reilly Lewis's excellent chorus was but one highlight of three weekend performances at Washington National Cathedral. Soprano Anne-Lise Berntsen and organist Nils Henrik Asheim offered several religious folk songs, each from a different Norwegian dal (district). "Eg Veit i Himmerik ei Borg" ("I Know a Castle in Heaven") was especially moving, the organ starting with a deep pedal point, rising to an orchestral sound, then subsiding for the last verse.

Among the choral works, contrasting versions of "Ave Maris Stella" by Edvard Grieg and Trond Kverno stood out. Unusual settings included "From East to West" by Dan Locklair, with more-modern harmonies than are typical in Christmas music; Stephen Caracciolo's "Make We Joy Now in This Fest," with alternating Latin and English lines; and Iver Kleive's thoughtful "Trofast Josef" ("Faithful Joseph"), a world premiere. The simple, lovely "Hos Gud Er Idel Glede" ("In Heaven Is Joy and Gladness") was a fitting hymnal capstone.

The concert was long -- two hours without intermission -- but musically and emotionally satisfying. Fine playing by Scott Dettra on organ, Edward M. Nassor on carillon, and the Washington Symphonic Brass added joy to an occasion both solemn and celebratory.

-- Mark J. Estren

© 2005 The Washington Post Company