Another installment on the holiday season was made last night by the Oratorio Society of Washington and the National Shrine Choir, both under the direction of Robert Shafer, who fashioned a program from one of history's most resplendent eras. Entitled "A Renaissance Christmas," the concert sought to re-create the special quality of that age, distinguished by the intricacy and brillance of its polyphony. Had Shafer concentrated on its vitality as well, that re-creation might have been more memorable.
Shafer chose several works that, taken individually, would have made the most exquisite of impressions. Performed in sequence, however, and severely hampered by the National Shrine's excessive reverberation, the deeply reverent music attained an almost funeral quality that simply did not seem indicative of Christmastide.
Fortunately, the two choruses provided much in the way of admirable singing despite the less than joyous atmosphere. The Shrine Choir delivered Victoria's "O Magnum Mysterium" with a warm tone that needed only a better balance in places. Both choral forces and members of the National Symphony were able to shine in Schutz's "Magnificat," but the acoustics played havoc with the more intricate passages.
The concert also contained Shafer's well-crafted and beautifully sung "Elizabethan Suite," which he wisely salvaged from his musical fable, "Silent Kingdom," heard earlier this year. Though it had no apparent seasonal value, it afforded the only break in the pace, which made it doubly welcome.
The program will be repeated at the Shrine this evening and tomorrow afternoon.