Review of Cantilena's Concert: An American Christmas
Reviewer: Anne Matthews, December 15, 2011 for Gatehouse News Service, Woburn, MA
View program notes from this concert
Cantilena, a women's chorus directed by Allegra Martin, provided a delightful start to the holiday season with its concert, “An American Christmas,” performed Sunday, Dec. 4, at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington.
The program balanced lesser-known seasonal gems with fresh arrangements of familiar favorites, and featured works by North American composers of the past 150 years, many of them from the Boston area. The selections ranged from a setting of the 15th-century carol “There Is No Rose,” by Canadian Eleanor Daley, to the premiere of a carol written for Cantilena by director emeritus Kenneth Seitz, a resident of Woburn.
Composer/pianist Seitz, who retired from conducting the women's chorus in May of 2009, has been active in the local music community for many years. “I began playing for the Joyce Middle School's choral events when my son Dana entered the sixth grade in 1988,” he said. Since then, Seitz has continued to accompany choral events at both the Kennedy and Joyce schools, and, as of last year, he has begun playing piano accompaniment for all choral events at the Woburn High School.
Over the years, Seitz has composed and arranged a great many Christmas pieces for Cantilena. Several were presented on this year’s program, including a setting of “Hail the Blest Morn’ for chorus and oboe, the premiere of “Carol” with words by “Wind in the Willows” author Kenneth Grahame, and Seitz’s lovely and atmospheric setting of the poem “Velvet Shoes” by Elinor Wylie. The delicate piano accompaniment evokes the gentle fall of snow as the choir's smooth, confident lines seemed to trace the path of the lovers in the poem.
Cantilena’s program conjured many of the compelling themes of Christmas: wonder, longing, story-telling, friendly animals, journeys to foreign lands, snowfall and indoor warmth, the peace of a mother with her sleeping child.
Home cooking got a mention too--who knew that the Three Queens also visited the manger, bringing chicken noodle soup as one of their gifts? Boston artist Norma Faber informs us of this unique news in one of three poems selected for “Manger Scenes” by Daniel Pinkham, the highlight of the concert for this reviewer. Pinkham's marvelous settings transported the audience to the intimacy and humanity of the stable. “The Foundling” was especially moving, offering a rare glimpse of the scene from Joseph's point of view.
The concert concluded with two traditional favorites: first, Seitz's entertaining arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas, accompanied by flute and piano, offering some musical surprises which kept listeners guessing; followed by the spiritual “Go Where I Send Thee!” performed with great brio and enjoyment.
Martin's thoughtful selection and ordering of the pieces highlighted the contrasts in mood, and demonstrated the flexibility of the singers who moved with ease among the wide variety of emotions, from anguish to serenity to humor, always with clear diction and good tuning. In addition to the à cappella selections, excellent accompaniments from flute, oboe, piano, and organ contributed to the richness of the program.
The warm, welcoming presence of Martin, and the choir's rapport with her made this an inspiring concert, refreshing the spirit of the season, and leaving listeners wanting more. Cantilena plans to release a CD of this program by December 2012.