Music of Honegger, Britten and Crumb filled a "20th Century Holiday Concert" last night at Baird Auditorium. Gathered together were the forces of the American Boychoir, the 20th Century Consort, men from the Smithsonian Chorus and soloists in an evening of varying splendor.
Benjamin Britten's "Ceremony of Carols," for treble choir and harp, was exquisite, as the American Boychoir charmed its way through the work under the direction of Christopher Kendall. Dotian Carter's harp seemed to sing with angelic brightness.
George Crumb's "Little Suite for Christmas A.D. 1979" for solo piano was played by Lambert Orkis. This fascinating catalog of Crumb's pianistic syntax also reveals the mounting interest of his debt to Messiaen. The magic here was as much thanks to Crumb as to Orkis, and there was plenty of it.
The second half of the program was given to Arthur Honegger's symphonic psalm "King David," sung in English translation. The seldom heard original chamber scoring was used with clarity and power. Yet Kendall's conducting managed to miss all of the music's violence and most of its mystery, aiming for the obvious accents and broadest outlines. Gone were the tension in the ostinato under the celebration of Absalom's death, the warriors' ferocity in the chromatic ascent from E to A-flat. The men's voices were thin and unattractive. And Robert Prosky's narration was replete with actory details, but void of majesty or even sincerity. Still, the American Boychoir provided lovely sounds, and Honegger's Alleluias proved irresistible.