musica intima
Angels Bright: A Christmas concert

Dates and Venues 14 December 2008, 3pm | West Vancouver United Church; 16 December 2008, 8pm | Ryerson United Church; 19 December 2008 8pm | Christ Church Cathedral

Reviewer John Jane

Fine old neighbourhood door-to-door traditions like milk delivery and Christmas carolling are now practically obsolete. It's tough to replace the latter tradition, but for just a few dollars, one can still hear that soothing balm of carol-singing after the assault on the human spirit that occurs at this time of the year.

Vancouver's musica intima, a 12-voice a capella ensemble presented some interesting arrangements of sacred and secular music in this lively concert and the singers delivered this Christmas story in tones of gentle and moving splendour.

Taking the 'stage' the six women and six men, formally attired in elegant ankle-length gowns and black tailcoats with white vests respectively, began appropriately with a joyous interpretation of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," sung in unison with female members on the left and the men on the right.

The group then re-positioned for American composer Eric Whitacre's graceful setting of Lux Aurumque (Light of Gold) sung in its translated Latin form. The rather dense textures of this work seemed to present little problem for the choir. Next was the traditional Irish "Wexford Carol" adapted by Lane Price, an intima member. This charming lilting melody featured solo performances by soprano, Siri Olesen and baritone, Shane Raman.

The jewel of this afternoon concert was Donald Patriquin's mellifluous "Antiphon and the Child of Mary." This lyrically layered arrangement came across with remarkable clarity and featured Joanna Dundas who delivered the stirring melody lines with flawless diction that was deserving of the audience's enthusiastic applause.

The singers ended the first set with an inspiring musica intima original composition. "Angels from Heaven Came" has been adopted as the choir's signature Christmas song and features text from Luke's gospel and alternating harmonies between angels (sopranos and altos) and shepherds (tenors and baritones).

After a short intermission, the singers continued with an exultant collection of well-known carols and choral excerpts that are more recondite. Hugo Distler's strikingly beautiful Es ist ein Ros Entsprungen (A rose has sprung up) is a ballad about how Mary learned she was to be the mother of Jesus. The melody is set with such care and expressivity as to evoke Distler's religious fervour.

One of my favourite carols is "God Rest ye Merry, Gentlemen" (Let nothing you dismay); a common greeting in Restoration England, from which era the song dates. In modern language this address might be something like: "Relax, guys - the news is all good" The song started with the three sopranos elegantly delivering the melody, while the rest of the group supplied the harmony.

The afternoon concluded with a generous encore; a Christmas season favourite, Gustav Nordqvist's "Wonderful Peace" celebrates the joy and warmth that marks the Yule tide. Newcomer Emily Cheung was featured singing the refrain who won over an appreciative and attentive audience.

There were some effecting moments in the afternoon's performance; many of these coming from the singers' careful focus, musical understanding and cohesive balance. The occasion was an excellent start to the Christmas festivities. The success of this Christmas concert is sure to bring new members to the ranks of this already well-established choir.

© 2008 John Jane