Kansas City's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was the venue on Saturday, December 14, 2013 for the cathedral's sixth annual presentation of a service of Advent Lessons and Carols. Typically, the lessons comprise a sequence of prophesies, beginning with the fall of Adam and ending with Mary's Magnificant. The readings in this service were mostly religious poems.
The introit, Conditor Alme Siderum (Creator of the earth and sky) was the traditional Chant Mode IV, sung with control, the music sounding appropriate fo the spacious cathedral. Following, the congregation stood and joined in an accompanied rendering of "O come, o come, Emmanuel."
Salve Regina, by Cristóbal de Morales (±1500-1553) is a lovely Renaissance anthem to Mary, gently presented, sections singing as one in pitch, timbre and volume variations.
O Nata Lux by Thomas Tallis (c.1505 - 1585) O Light born of light Jesus, a five voice piece with voices progressing along the text together, but maintaining contrapuntal decorations, often in duet. For lovers of Renaissance music that sounds like it might have been recorded in the Sixteenth Century (technological anachronism noted) this worked.
O magnum mysterium of Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) was preceded by an explanation of the familiar setting. It moves from fugal counterpoint to a homophonic hymnic section, to three energetically boyant alleluias, which resounded through the cathedral with emotive joy. The individual part entries were well-matched and beautifully legato. The homophonic sections moved as one in lovely harmony,.
Bach-Magnificat BWV 243 XI. Chorus: Sicut locutus est, was gentle, notwithstanding Bach's demanding florid writing. For chronological sense, this piece would come at the end of the program, as most Advent services end with Mary's Song.
The Schola took on a very English sound for Sir John Kenneth Tavener's (1944-2013 : England) setting of Blake's Little Lamb. The ethereal treble sound was paired with an understated bass support. The unaccompanied lines floated through the marble of the cathedral; the dissonances were clear, assuring the moderate-sized audience that they were intended and well-rehearsed.
Charles Wood's realization of "Hail Gladdening Light," homophonically written for two antiphonal four-part choirs, was ably handled by the Schola.. There were some stand-out harsh bass notes during the strongest passages, as there are on the linked recording. Other than those few interruptions, the diction was clear, the well-controlled crescendi and decerscendi were on single glide-paths.
Descending arpeggios, like doves from heaven, flowed through Eric Whitacre's, Lux Arumque. The well-tuned dissonances express the Latin text. Charles Anthony Silvestri translated it from the original English poem by Edward Esch (b. 1970) "Light and Gold." (Light, warm and heavy as pure gold and the angels sing softly to the new-born baby.) Eric Whitacre originally presented this piece with a virtual choir, the process of which may be read by following the "Light and Gold," link. While some may object to this abstracting process of taking the accessible, modern language to a dead and mostly translated one, the result emphasizes the music. If one is provided the translation as it is performed, the expression and the sound, indeed, become one.
"Second Eve," by Ola Gjeilo, sung in this link by the Phoenix Chorale, directed by Charles Bruffy, is a setting of Sancta Maria, Regina caeli, inspired by photographs of Mt. McKinley (or Denali) Alaska's (and North America's) highest peak. The wafting voices, high and low, soft and loud, can, if one stretches, aurally describe the blowing snows on the monument of vastness. Put into that context, the dual expression of the landscape and the hymn was well-combined by the choir.
The Schola is to be congratulated on its navigation of these modern, dissonant musical selections, and presenting them as ear-pleasing music, and not train wrecks.
A careful, souful rendition of Roland Carter's setting of "Mary Had a Baby," followed, with Katie Beyers as the aptly chosen soloist, singing both artfully and convincingly, this favorite of the American musiccal landscape. As the last choral piece of the evening, it set the stage for a warm response from the audience.