The Washington Men's Camerata was expertly prepared for the debut concert of its new music director, Frank Albinder, Saturday at Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church. In a Christmas program, the 54-voice male chorus sang as well as it has ever sung in its 15-year history--that is, very well indeed. Its tone was sweet, firm, well blended; its pianissimos ravishing; its diction (and the church's acoustics) so perfect that the complete, well-annotated texts in the printed program, though welcome, were hardly necessary.
If there was anything to criticize, it might be a certain blandness, an emotional detachment in some of the perfectly articulated numbers. If you liked it, you could call it "polish." If you didn't like it, perhaps "musical correctness." This was at its most intense in the concluding "A Christmas Garland," a set of five carols by Alfred S. Burt (1920-54), which were beautifully sung but sounded pleasantly unexciting. Polished objectivity was exactly right for the lovely Renaissance "Ave Maria" of Victoria and the "O Magnum Mysterium" of Morales, and the chorus was properly fervent in the wonderful "Pater Noster" and "Ave Maria" (actually a slightly modified "Angelus") of Franz Biebl (b. 1906).
But there is a natural boisterousness in celebrations of this season that was curiously absent in most of the program's first half. It arrived spectacularly, however, in the first number of the second half, a vigorous, propulsive African carol called "Betelehemu" that brought the program to life, greatly aided by the drumming of high school senior Nathan Lassell. The momentum continued in a series of traditional carols, notably a lively "Good King Wenceslas," a livelier "Wassail Song" and a rousing "March of the Kings."