There is no sound quite like that created by the Choral Arts Society of Washington. At once pure and intense, precise and personal, it speaks of the absolute communication between these 183 singers and their wizard of a conductor, Norman Scribner. This congenial, unassuming man knows just how to match and fuse voices; he is also a master of musical programming, plumbing the choral repertoire and coming up with works diverse in both period and mood.
All these gifts were amply demonstrated last night during the society's concert of Christmas music, which began with the huge ensemble striding down the aisles of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, ringing bells and chanting the 13th-century "Of the Father's Love Begotten." There followed a waltz of traditional and contemporary holiday offerings: a buoyant reading of the "shepherds' scene" from Handel's "Messiah" featuring the effervescent soprano soloist Marvis Martin; Washington composer Richard Wayne Dirksen's now bracing, now mysterious "Three Pieces for Chorus"; the Choral Arts' chamber choir's lilting rendition of three Spanish carols; a riveting performance of Daniel Pinkham's superb "Christmas Cantata" and much, much more.
The last portion of the concert--a bouquet of beloved carols--gave all of us in the audience a chance to contribute to this celebration of sound, and to momentarily share in the feeling of community these musicians inspire. The concert will be repeated tonight at 8:30 p.m.