Charleston’s artistic plate has been piled high with mostly worthwhile seasonal events over the past couple of weeks; I wish I could’ve taken them all in. But the two I was able to catch — from different ends of the cultural community — offered well-prepared and pleasing portions of Christmas spirit and cheer.
Dr. Robert Taylor and his College of Charleston Concert Choir offered their annual “Candlelight at the College” event on Dec. 4 at Grace Episcopal Church. On the musical menu were stirring seasonal choral classics from the likes of Hildegard von Bingen, Pavel Chesnokov, Vaughan Williams, and John Tavener, among others. More familiar carols and songs came our way in classic versions from leading choral arrangers.
We heard a wide range of moods and styles, from Medieval and mystical to jubilant and jazzy. Expert instrumental support (organ, trumpets, and piano) came courtesy of local notables, and the various numbers alternated with Christmas readings as delivered by CofC Theatre Department faculty member Evan Parry. The net effect was varied and entertaining, though I was often hard-pressed to find direct connections between the dramatic declamations and the music surrounding it.
This was the second time I’ve heard the Concert Choir in what is supposed to be a “rebuilding year” for them. Last year’s group, after being hailed as one of the nation’s top handful of college choirs, suffered heavy losses to graduation. But their reputation has attracted quite a few fabulous new voices to the College, and Taylor believes he’s got more sheer talent under his baton than ever before.
The only hitch is they haven’t yet been singing together long enough to quite match last year’s bunch in terms of balance, precision, and sense of ensemble. Their sound remains sleek and glorious, and the concert was full of deeply spiritual and thrilling moments. But I caught a few slightly ragged passages and a muffed entrance or two. Still, give them another semester or two to achieve final polish, and this group may well turn out to be Taylor’s best yet.
Lorna Tedesco Barker’s excellent East Cooper Concert Series, based at Christ Episcopal Church in Mt. Pleasant (where she’s the music director), has gone un-ballyhooed for too long. Her Dec. 12 event featured the Crescent Brass Ensemble — a spiffy ensemble of Southern musicians with a Christian message — in a fun and fitting celebration of the season.
Brasses always add a festive and brilliant touch to Christmas music, and these players gave of their best in a program of mostly familiar songs and carols. They sounded spectacular in Christ Church’s spacious acoustics. Particularly pleasing were the many deft arrangements by Dr. Chris Woods, the group’s bass trombonist. He made a rousing Sousa-style march of “Jingle Bells,” and even managed to sneak a bit of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony into “The Sussex Carol.”
We got to sing along in a couple of beloved hymns, with Barker supporting the brasses on organ. In the concluding “Thine be the Glory,” the players positioned themselves at the church’s far corners, and their spine-tingling surround-sound will remain one of the supreme musical moments of the season for me.