Cameron Wilson
Photo:Vincent Lim

Chor Leoni
Christmas with Chor Leoni

When & Where December 15 at 7:30pm, December 16 at 11 am, 2 pm & 5 pm , December 18 at 5pm and 8 pm| St. Andrew's Wesley United Church

Conductor Erick Lichte

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Chor Leoni's Christmas program provided a welcome hour of calm in a hectic season. Performing at St. Andrew's Wesley, the choir processed up the side aisles and settled into the aisles and transepts for their opening number. A constant, humming drone grounded the melodies, filling the church and surrounding the audience with heavenly sound. Erick Lichte's "To Hear the Angels Sing" proposes new ways of listening to familiar carols. A boisterous, shanty-like version of "I Saw Three Ships" followed in lively contrast. Ed. Henderson's arrangement is full of jollity with jaunty, glinting breakers of song. Celtic notes and downward falling passages ring the changes.

Don Macdonald, Chor Leoni’s composer in residence, has composed a work of gorgeous imagination. “A Fantasy of Carols” is a medley of well-known European carols sung by the choir while harp (Vivian Chen), violin (Cameron Wilson) and piano (Tina Chang) weave inventive, improvisatory ideas an incantatory charm around them.

Turning to North America, "Hail Mary" is an arrangement of the spiritual "Mary had a baby" by 20th century composer William Dawson. Alternately sweet and stirring, it was beautifully sung by a small a cappella group. Malcolm Dalglish's "Star in the East" followed, arrangements of Appalachian carols, which again varied between tender yearning and rousing encouragement with an exquisite tenor solo sung by Keith Sinclair..

"Star of Wonder" by Terre Roche is a delicate gem. Unconventional - a shepherdess, not a king, questions a star rather than angels - unaccompanied and mysterious it speaks of a quest for that ineffable thing that is at the heart of Christmas.

Equally unconventional, Cameron Wilson’s “A Midnight Clear” is a deconstruction and rebuilding of the well-known 19th century carol. Re-forming the text into 3 sections, Mystery, The Message and A Hoedown of Hope, Wilson has written new music scored for piano, harp, guitar (Keith Sinclair), percussion (Michael Soderlin), violin and choir. The original text, in verses not always sung today speaking of wars, poverty and oppression, as well as hope and peace, is well served by Wilson’s moving and rich interpretation. Perhaps most surprising is the final movement of hope and joy expressed in dancing, country-style fiddle music.

A flowing harp and lilting piano are companions to the choir in Ola Gjeilo's lyrical "New Year's Carol" which reminds us that after darkness whether spiritual or seasonal, spring and sunshine will come and life will go on. As with" A Midnight Clear" and "Auld Lang Syne", the poet's name was not given in the program.

A somewhat riotous arrangement of "Auld Lang Syne" by Licht and Wilson saw some choir members dancing at the back and others flat on the floor. Rallying from this ceilidh-inspired mayhem with its Barbie-pink lighting, the choir recovered its dignity. Now bearing candles, they moved through the church again into the aisles and transepts to sing "Silent Night" with the audience.

Lighting by Brad Trenaman flooded the choir with ever-changing colours. At my 11 am performance, music books occasionally flashed as they caught the light.


© 2023 Elizabeth Paterson