It was snowing on the way to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in New Albany Saturday night, and that was a perfectly fitting scene for an evening when The Louisville Chorus performed the first of their three Christmas concerts this month. A Family Christmas at St. Mary’s: Holiday Music from the Heart was the chorus’s 13th annual concert at the venerable Floyd County church.
After listening to some holiday music on Lite 106.9 FM on the way to the show, I was hoping and assuming neither Wonderful Christmastime nor Feliz Navidad would be on the set list. Apparently realizing that those songs are played twice hourly on the radio anyway and not necessarily fitting for such vocal veterans, the chorus spared the audience.
They did, however, offer a show that was the perfect mix of traditional favorites and lesser known gems. Caroling, Caroling opened the show and was followed by the more reverent and underrated Some Children See Him, sung capably by John Trueblood. O Hearken Ye was a full choral selection, and Little Altar Boy, a song made famous by Andy Williams, featured Tenor Ryan Ludwig, who did a nice job with the song, singing it with a hint of Raul Malo in is voice.
Next was a medley of The First Nowell, O Little Town of Bethlehem, I Saw Three Ships, and Deck the Halls. While a medley of these chestnuts may sound ordinary, the performance was not. It was one of the highlights of the evening. In particular I Saw Three Ships stood out as superb arrangement, one that wove and meshed the men and woman’s voices to great effect. Next was the lesser known 15th century melody As I Went to Bethlehem, which was performed with great power and precision.
Young soprano Paige Middleton performed an operatic and pitch perfect version of Away in a Manger. Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas from Home Alone was a surprising selection that worked well, but Somewhere In My Memory off the same John Williams’ soundtrack may have been an even better choice to showcase this chorus’ abilities. A brief intermission followed, and the second set began with the Irving Berlin’s Happy Holiday/White Christmas. Walking on Air followed. Written by Howard Blake for the 1982 animated film based on Raymond Briggs' 1978 children's book The Snowman. Again, it is not a well known Christmas song, but it was flawlessly performed.
Alto Alicia Davis soloed on Grown-Up Christmas List, a song made popular by Natalie Cole and Amy Grant, among others, but Davis held her own, though. That was followed by a rousing Hark, Now, O Shepherds. Tenor Bill Howell, sounding like he just arrived from a Broadway stage, sang Panis Angelicus with meaning and perfection. For my money, there is no song harder to sing, Christmas or non-Christmas, than O Holy Night. It builds and builds. If U2 had written carols in the mid 19th century, I imagine they would have done something like O Holy Night. Soprano soloist Darlene Welch was a standout on this selection, and when the rest of the vocalists kicked in on the chorus, it was chills-inducing.
A nice arrangement of Silent Night which included soloist Donna Love, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas closed the show in a winning manner. It was a show that featured flawless performances, but it wasn’t sterile or cookie cutter even once. The chorus sang with not only precision but with warmth and feeling, two vital characteristics of good Christmas music. Therese Davis missed no notes as she accompanied the chorus on keyboards, and Melissa Langdon didn’t disappoint in her two songs on the flute.
Throughout the evening conductor Daniel Spurlock managed the flow of the show gracefully and with full command. Most of all, it looked like he was thoroughly enjoying himself. And why not? He leads one of the jewels in the Louisville Arts community, and that is an impressive and crowded field. If you did not get a chance to see Saturday night’s concert at St. Mary’s, the chorus performs two more shows.
Christmas at The Cathedral: In the Presence of the Nativity will take place next Saturday, December 11 at 7:30 PM at the Cathedral of the Assumption. Christmas at Immaculate Conception: In the Presence of the Nativity will be next Sunday, December 12, at 4 PM at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. Tickets are: Student $6 Senior $15 General $18. If you aren’t in the Christmas spirit yet, chances are you will be after one of these shows.