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Two Christmas Concerts

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Dec 11th, 2016

Bard College under Conductor James Bagwell put on its annual Christmas concert, A Winter Songfest. Participants included Bard College Conservatory Orchestra, the Graduate Vocal Arts Program, Bard College Singers, and Bard College Symphonic Chorus. While less ambitious than last year’s program, this program was more polished, successful, and enjoyable. The first quarter of the program featured short pieces by Palestrina, Rossini, Tavener, Cornelius, and Costley. Haydn’s “Winter” from The Seasons provided meditation on winter landscape. Here soprano Caroline Dunigan, tenor Eric Carey, and baritone Nathaniel Sullivan excelled as soloists with dramatic inflection.

The second half of the program began with the Character Dances and Waltz of the Flowers from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. I’ve heard this piece so often I winced when I saw the program, yet hearing it so well played made me fall in love with its charm once more: everything was wonderful, even the harp solo! Tchaikovsky had a special genius for good popular music.

Mendelssohn’s Da Nobis Pacem was ardently sung by the full chorus. From this meditation on peace, the program moved into popular seasonal songs sung in small groups: Berlin’s “Snow” and “White Christmas,” and “Silent Night.” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” was then sung by all. These well-known songs don’t sound shopworn when sung so professionally and here they sounded quite special. For encore, they performed a version of “Sleigh Ride.” Some people left the concert humming to their vehicles.

Lyall Federated Church in Millbrook performed its 2nd annual Christmas Concert. Under Daniel Michael Koch’s direction they opened with Danner’s “Arise, Your Light has Come” sung by a local chorus of 33. Vivaldi’s Gloria, the long featured piece, was sung in full with soprano soloists Robin Clifford and Rachael Weishoff, both of whom sang with expressive force. Here Allison Rubin excelled on oboe while Robert Murphy and Hafez Taghavi on violins emphatically caught Vivaldi’s characteristic rhythms with solid support from Ling Kwan on cello. There were also bright moments for Jessica Stein on trumpet and Emily Frederick on viola.

Seven children then performed a medley of carols. At least four of them could sing superbly and this endowed the evening with memorable charm. A medley of popular Christmas songs was then performed with audience participation. In an arrangement of Holst’s “Christmas Day” Clifford and Weishoff then delivered impressive performances.

At both concerts light and nimble dancing snowflakes functioned as adornment rather than seasonal threat. There was sincerity and anticipation of joy embedded in these concerts. This is the season to be jolly before the punishing winds of winter arrive. What’s in your stocking? A happy, dancing foot, I hope.