Scott Williamson Leads Cantata Chorus Christmas Program

Scott WilliamsonAs the new conductor of the Cantata Chorus, Scott Williamson introduced a program of three choral works for the holiday season. With 27 singers, the Cantata Chorus is Tidewater’s leading community chorus and is celebrating 50 years of presenting major choral works. With a 19 piece orchestra and soloists Amy Cofield Williamson, mezzo-soprano Lisa Relaford Coston, tenor Andri Gowens and bass James Weaver, we heard the Joseph Haydn Missa Sancti Nicolai featuring lovely choral singing in a crisp, well-paced performance. There was fire in the Gloria and in the sweet, natural soprano solo section by Ms. Williamson. There was a hearty energy in the choral Credo and fine declamation by Mr. Gowens and later a duet with Mr. Weaver. The chorus sang the last movements with solos by the sopranos concluding a fine holiday treat.

Amy Cofield WilliamsonThe jewel set in the middle of this hour-long program was In Terra Pax, op. 39 by English composer Gerard Finzi (1901-1956). In Terra Pax (1954) was written without commission for Finzi's local community orchestra near the end of his tragic life after he was diagnosed with Hodgkins disease. Low strings, including the harp, open and the words by Robert Bridges of the beautiful night of the birth are sung in a rich, clear intonation by baritone James Weaver. The chorus then sings of the shepherd's visitation by angels from the gospel of St. Luke. Low strings add a sense of mystery.

Lisa Relaford CostonThe soprano continues the story announcing the birth as recorded by St. Luke. The Chorus becomes the choir of angels and heavenly host singing with joyful exuberance. Again the baritone sings words by poet Bridges who is comforted by the image of Christ speaking tenderly to his sorrowful flock through the riches of time as “I stood on the hill heark'ning in the aspect of th' eternal silence.” Ms. Coston ends the piece evoking peace, good will for all and is later joined by the chorus. The experience felt lovely and complete.

James WeaverRalph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) Fantasia on Christmas Carols was a charming surprise since all his chosen carols were selected from several counties in England: The Truth sent from above (Herefordshire) with baritone Weaver's singing enhanced by choral touches with strings; Come all you worthy gentlemen (Somerset) sung by the men of the Chorus with organ and bass until the women take over; later they join together in jubilation; On Christmas night (Sussex) set as a baritone call with chorus response; There is a fountain (Herefordshire – tune only) with new words the call and response continues. On the singing of “O we wish you a happy New Year” we heard the peal of the bells (struck with mallets by David Walker). As voices fade the violin music continues until the baritone sings a benediction with the Chorus.

The concert was free and open to everyone as part of an Olde Towne Portsmouth holiday event. An offering was taken from the townsfolk who filled Trinity Episcopal Church on December 12, 2009. The orchestra of twenty players added greatly to our enjoyment.

Conductor Scott Williamson is a fount of unfamiliar and familiar music and wants to tell us about it and have us hear it all. It is a fine situation for his ever-growing audience.

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