The Howard University Choir and Chorale presided over a festive celebration of the Christmas season at Cramton Auditorium yesterday. The program featured the Bach "Magnificat" and a collection of Christmas pieces that highlighted many of the things the Howard choirs do so well.
First of all, they have perhaps the most exciting sound of any choral group in the area. It is characterized by a marvelously vibrant tone, alive and focused. It can move lightly and accurately as it did in "The Shepherd's Chorus" from Menotti's "Amal and the Night Visitors." It can sound majestic, as it did in the "Cum Sancto" from the "Magnificat," and its pianissimos are hair-raising.
Conductor J. Weldon Norris is blessed, also, with some fine solo voices in his group. Soprano Lydia Wright and mezzo-soprano Kim Sylvain distinguished themselves in small assignments and were far more impressive than the five soloists in the admittedly more demanding Bach arias.
The power of this performance of Bach resided in the choral singing rather than in the solos or in the broad sweep of the work. Norris paced individual movements well but was not able to put them together as a convincing whole. The best solo work came from sopranos Mattiwilda Dobbs and Elizabeth Dobbs.
The audience was invited to sing along in some of the carols and, perhaps inspired by the chorus, proved to be the finest singing audience in memory.