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The National Philharmonic at the Music Center at Strathmore. Over the weekend the orchestra and its chorus presented an emotional
The National Philharmonic at the Music Center at Strathmore. Over the weekend the orchestra and its chorus presented an emotional "Messiah." (By Jill Bochicchio)

From the subdued, half-voiced moments in "Since by man came death" to the triumphant cries of "wonderful counselor," the immediacy of the 100-plus voices was striking. They were underscored by the orchestra's dark tones and robust musicmaking.

As a group, the soloists were a well-rounded quartet, characterized by fluid singing and innate musicality. Walders allowed space for extemporaneous moments, which made this oratorio a true showcase for the voice.

Sharla Nofziger sent forth an elegant, larklike soprano whose glittery timbre flattered lyrical arias better than faster passages. Mezzo Delores Ziegler's warm, honeyed voice, on the other hand, was better suited for linear locomotion, her slower arias inflected with subtlety. Tenor Nathan Davis sang tenderly with myriad emotions informed by a natural sense of baroque decorum, while Philip Cutlip's molten-amber bass sustained phrases effortlessly and artistically for lengthy durations.

Though there were a few sour notes in the upper strings and hints of off-tempo moments in the chorus, the spirit of the music and the beauty of the human voice were never overlooked or lost.

-- Grace Jean

Master Chorale Of Washington

The Master Chorale of Washington sang a few unusual pieces for its Christmas concert on Saturday in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, but much of the program could also be heard in the malls most Decembers.

Still, the familiar repertoire (and Music Director Donald McCullough's engaging patter from the stage) drew a packed house of holiday-spirited folks and their progeny, and the resplendent singing of the chorale made the old tunes involving once more.

McCullough himself composed the most substantial unfamiliar work on the program, "Canite Tuba" (Latin for "Sound the trumpet"). The composition returns too often to a hyper-bright sound in which loud brass chords support high notes from the chorus, a sound that became especially grating in the bombastic, overlong coda. But in the work's quieter moments, rich, close harmonies effectively evoke the mystery of the Nativity. The Master Chorale easily compassed all the demands of the work, making the best possible case for it.

The chorale's gorgeous tone colors and faultlessly clear diction enlivened the more familiar tunes, including "Christmas Time Is Here," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and the conflation of beloved carols known as "Christmas Day." The candlelight processional and recessional, during which the chorale sang classics like "Silent Night" and "Angels We Have Heard on High," had a special intimacy, with the choristers spread throughout the hall.

And the singalongs were a real treat -- as McCullough said, "The act of 2,500 people singing communally doesn't happen often," and the sheer volume and joy in "O Come All Ye Faithful" produced goose bumps no matter how many times you've heard the hymn.

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