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The soloists (soprano Joan McFarland, mezzo Barbara Hollinshead, tenors Robert Baker and Adam Hall, baritone Bobb Robinson and bass Mark Mason) spun out the score's elaborate melodic forays, trills and echo effects with skill, eloquence and a deep understanding of its compelling drama.
-- Cecelia Porter
As holiday concerts go, the Washington Chorus's "Music for Christmas" at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Sunday had a comfortable familiarity, from its all-carol program to the traditional sonorities of the accompanying National Capital Brass and Percussion. Carol arrangements ranged from the orb-and-scepter high-Anglicanism of David Willcocks to the feel-good American perkiness of Jerry Brubaker and Roger Ames -- the latter's "Rejoice" medley particularly appealing for its smart brass writing and rhythmic deconstructions.
The sluggish soprano solo in Mozart's Laudate Dominum and consistently anemic organ registrations were the afternoon's only missteps. Otherwise, there was much to admire in the punchy attacks, refined blend and satisfying vocal mass that conductor Robert Shafer drew from his 150-strong chorus. Shafer's own, Bach-derived composition, "Non Nobis Domine," proved a gorgeous highlight of the concert. But even more ear-catching was the harmonically pungent setting of "There Is No Rose" that Washington Chorus member Brian Bartoldus wrote for the H-B Woodlawn Chamber Singers, a high school ensemble that performed as guests on the program.
High school choirs can be a purgatorial experience, but these 19 students were terrific. Under Jeffrey Benson's fine musical direction, they sang with an exquisite blend, subtlety of phrasing, confident musicianship and fully supported tone -- even when dynamics were at a whisper -- that would be the envy of some professional ensembles. Good call on Shafer's part to offer them the spotlight.
-- Joe Banno