AVAS director makes strong debut with holiday concert

Christmas program features chants, familiar carols and talented soloists



Musical director David B. Daniel's debut with the Arundel Vocal Arts Society was a strong one, as he led a Christmas "Hodie" concert that included Renaissance chants, American spirituals and contemporary rhythmic works that revealed the AVAS singers' impressive talents.

Choirmaster Lara Hoggard's 1985 arrangement of a medieval praise song with roots in the 13th century opened last week's program at Calvary United Methodist Church in Annapolis on a bright note. Personent Hodie featured trumpets, trombones and tuba heralding the birth of Jesus, and Daniel skillfully brought out the many moods of this difficult piece in the chorus' impassioned singing of the Nativity story. It was accompanied by the 14-piece orchestra, which added dramatic impact without overwhelming the 49 chorus voices.

Renaissance Dutch composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck's jubilant Hodie Christus natus est was given a lovely a cappella reading.

Contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Part's Magnificat, which describes the Virgin Mary's joy, has been described as transcending time. And the AVAS' hauntingly beautiful a cappella version of the 1976 work did just that, with lovely soprano voices followed by male voices in counterpoint until they blended into a full, harmonious sound.

Other highlights included renditions of American spirituals "Mary Had a Baby," "Glory, Glory to the Newborn King" and the uplifting brass and percussion heard in Andre Thomas' arrangement of African Noel, with lively choral work to percussion accompaniment.

Despite the orchestra's occasionally encountering problems, American composer Daniel Pinkham's Christmas Cantata received first-rate treatment by the chorus, especially when delivering the familiar "Greensleeves" melody.

All soloists were drawn from AVAS ranks, with baritone Kevin Powers doing well by the carol "Silent Night." Soprano Dawn Ward was effective in the touching spiritual "Mary Had a Baby," as were other soloists Pamela Phillips, Peter Bonner and Jim Phillips.

The program closed with composer Conrad Susa's A Christmas Garland, which featured familiar carols that the audience was invited to sing.

In the spirit of the season, it was gratifying to see former director Glenette Schumacher still supporting the group by singing in the chorus after contributing so much to its excellence.

Following an AVAS tradition, narrator Michael Gilles introduced each selection with musical explanations that were enlightening and witty but never pompous.

The concert was an auspicious beginning for Daniel, showing his knowledge of the breadth of talent possessed by the chorus members. Together, director and chorus offered an afternoon of extraordinary music to start the celebration of the Christmas season.

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