An eclectic range of sacred and secular
A little bit classic, a little bit calypso, a little bit jazz the programme offered by the Ensemble Singers on a blustery Sunday afternoon was an eclectic range of sacred and secular Christmas music exquisitely performed by the ensemble and guests soloists.in the narthex of the church. It created an ethereal atmosphere as if medieval choristers in a monastic cloister were calling across the centuries the message of hope brought by Christ's incarnation celebrated at Christmas. It was followed by the 15th century carol ‘Adam Lay Ybounden' arranged by Peter Warlock, reminding the 21st century audience of the extent of the Christian musical heritage.
The programme began with male voices singing Vijay Singh's ‘Medieval Gloria' a cappella
However the programme did not remain stuck in the past, but presented old favourites in new and interesting arrangements. ‘In Silent Night' arranged by Mitchell Southall, was one such new take on old favourites, delivered with the meticulous phrasing and clarity of tone one has come to expect of this ensemble, under the direction of Lloyd Matthew. Another was ‘A Christmas Pastorale', a delightful composition by Charles Callahan, which comprised a playful interchange between flute, played by Nancy Smith, and organ, played by the composer himself.
Guest soloist Ru-Zelda Severin, currently a music and education lecturer at the Bermuda College, sang a selection of pieces during the concert. She delivered the traditional salutation ‘Ave Maria' by Charles Gounod, and Mozart's ‘Alleluia (Exsultate Jubilate)' in a rich and powerful soprano with much feeling. Equally expressive were her renditions of the Negro spiritual ‘Sweet Little Jesus Boy' and Adolphe Adam's ‘O Holy Night'.
The Women's Ensemble sang with energy and obvious enjoyment Bob Chilcott's ‘A Little Jazz Mass'. This composition is a highly original setting of the Latin Missa Bevis in which the five movements embrace a variety of jazz styles. The opening ‘Kyrie' had a definite groove, the ‘Gloria' a swing bass style, and there was a moody, bluesy feel to the concluding ‘Agnus Dei'. The voices were underpinned by an appropriately stylistic piano accompaniment played by Lloyd Matthew with Shelton Bean on percussion and Clarence Burrows on double bass.
At an entirely different pace and with youthful energy, the Bermuda School of Music Steel Pan Orchestra played two sets during the evening. Modern favourites included ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas ‘ and ‘Winter Wonderland'. ‘Deck the Ding Dong' was a vibrant medley of traditional Christmas music, and a particular highlight for me was their opening number ‘Spin Cycle'.
In addition to traversing the centuries, the programme selections came from the length and breadth of Christendom. In addition to the numbers already mentioned there were several Negro spirituals, and drawing on the folk tradition of Appalachia ‘The Trees on the Mountain', a soaring and melancholy aria from Carlisle Floyd's opera ‘Susannah', sung feelingly by Ms Severin. There was also a Nigerian Christmas Song ‘Betelehemu', richly rendered by the Men's Ensemble.
Having explored a range of emotions, the programme closed with the joyous ‘Shepherd's Pipe Carol' by John Rutter and a rousing ‘Hallelujah Chorus', which the audience honoured by rising to their feet, and remained standing to give the performers an enthusiastic and well-deserved ovation for a beautiful gift of ‘A Christmas Celebration in Music'.