The Paul Hill Chorale's annual Christmas Candlelight Concerts have become a welcome local tradition for good reason. One can expect to hear a generous helping of carols, masses and the occasional unfamiliar gem, flawlessly executed. Saturday night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, on a festively decorated stage adorned with poinsettias and tannenba umer, they regaled with a healthy tonic of holiday music good for "wassailing" the soul.
A small contingent from the Chorale entertained with a medley of carols outside the hall prior to the concert. Once inside, members of the group spread themselves around the walls and stage front, with each flank taking one or more turns at singing. The audience was literally surrounded by beautiful voices intoning such selections as "Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabelle" and "Catalonian Carol."
Reassembled on stage with conductor Paul Hill, the singers, accompanied by organist Sondra Proctor and the distinctive solo trumpet of Christopher Gekker, offered Halsey Stevens' rhapsodic "Magnificat," a powerful work that evokes the poetry attributed to Mary after an angel informs her of the exalted mission to be mother of Christ as ordained by God. Under Hills' careful direction, Vaughan Williams' Mass in G Minor sparkled with its abundance of flowing melodies. The liquid, singing lines of the Kyrie and Osanna as interpreted by solo soprano Fleta Hylton contrasted nicely with the delicate antiphonal traceries of the Sanctus.
Max Reger's "The Virgin's Slumber Song," featuring the women of the Chorale, and Francis Poulenc's "Quem Vidistis Pastores?" ("Whom Did You See, Shepherds?") ushered in the Candlelight Recessional by harpist Lois Edwards and the concluding sing-along portion of the program, where the audience joined the vocalists in the likes of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Silent Night."