The impressive and well-established choral group, Orpheus Chamber Singers, performed their 24th annual holiday concert Wintersong Dec. 14 and 15, with one more performance slated for tomorrow. It is one of my favorite concerts of the season, and it was remarkable this year for its breadth, a shining example of a rich, layered tradition.
The harmony achieved by the 24-person group is matched by expressive richness and the fine, controlled quality of sound that comes from accomplished singers who blend and also emerged for solos in a number of sections in an eclectic program sensitively arranged by founding artistic director Donald Krehbiel.
The surround-sound quality the chamber group achieves in the vaulted space of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church reached an early joyful apogee in the exuberance of “Joy in the Morning” by John Joubert, in which the singers’ quick, crisp articulation was on display for the rapid-fire setting of a text by Kenneth Grahame, the author of Wind in the Willows.
A sing-along of “The First Nowell” led into a boisterous series of Latin American 17th and 18th century villancicos and carols and the first appearances by Nathaniel Earnhart on guitar and Fort Worth Symphony cellist Karen Hall. The blithe 17th-century Mexican carol “Sancta Maria, e!” set to a Nahuatl text from pre-Columbian Mexico joined the fiery and spirited “Convidando Esta le Noche” by Juan Garcia de Zéspedes, punctuated by “ay!” (“oh!”) and bearing the rhythmic cadences of a popular dance and the embellishment of jubilant maracas.
Ethereal and quiet, a very different trio opened the second half of the program. Floating wordless notes like winter flurries, the altos and sopranos begin “First Snow” by Danish composer Bo Holton, who set his piece to text by Icelandic poet Stephan G. Stephanson. The chilly “Song of the Pines” was atmospheric, while “Serenity,” a piece for choir and cello by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo, which uses the “O Magnum Mysterium” text, was unbelievably gorgeous, with cello accompaniment creating waves and layers, at once lush and minimalist. The piece is a feat of restraint and timing that filled the high-ceilinged space. And a gorgeous and wordless “Seven Sounds Unseen” by American composer Robert Moran was hushed and transcendent.
For Franz Beible’s “Ave Maria,” the singers parted ways and flanked the audience, surrounding the space and creating a final embrace from the aisles of the church.
The group will sing its final concert tonight in the Church of the Transfiguration.