O magnum mysterium,These words have reeled in many choral composers in the last 400 years, and the Vivaldi Chamber choir presented three of the best in their annual Christmas concert. David Millard structured an interesting programme that took us through Christmas in the Choir Loft, then to the streets of Provence, returning in the third part to popular celebrations of the season with the people of norhern Europe. Each section was brought to a conclusion with a carefully chosen "O Magnum Mysterium"
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Part one concluding with William Byrd's "OMM," featured plenty of interesting music, mostly familiar to regular Vivaldi Choir audiences. Christmas is, after all, a time for favourites. But the real attraction, and the one that garnered the most audience comment was the Provençal street songs. These urged the people to follow the musicians and celebrate the Holy Child's birth in a parade propelled by drums, bells and pipes.
In addition to Sandra Tremblay and Pat Crakanthorp, ably presenting more bells than hands, choir members Karen Millard, recorder, May Leigh Warden, tambourine, Mike Millard, recorder and Genevieve Mackay, viola, formed the medieval marching band accompanying these tuneful pieces. Extra texture and delight lay in the dulcimer and tambourines à cordes played by Director, David Millard and the cornemuse played by brother Mike. These instruments were specially created for this concert and were the subjects of a "technical review" as they were all products of the of Millard pére atelier. Then the Director provided a capsule introduction to the dialect of the street songs, Provençal or la langue d'oc (Occitane) explaining its origins in vulgar latin and sharing roots with other early Romance languages such as Catalan. The singers spent a considerable amount of rehearsal time in perfecting pronunciation of the words, prime was the elimination of the tendency to give a "Frenchified" sound to words that appeared to be close in spelling. The result, from the audience's point of view were five rollicking, joyous journeys to the stable, where again the wonder of the animals' witness to Jesus birth was celebrated with "O Magnum Mysterium," this time by Tomás Luis de Victoria.
Part three of the evening's proceedings took its name from the Choir's newly minted CD Swete was the Song and featured six of the tracks appearing thereon, including "Swete was the Song the Virgin Soong" Adapted by Thomas Hammond from William Ballet. The sweet singing suitably dedicated to this piece was allowed to slip a little in the subsequent more raucous renderings from the street, tavern and manor house doorstep with "Gaudete", "The Boars's Head Carol" and the "Gloucestershire Wassail". The singers all seem to have an inordinately good time pulling off these traditional arrangements, and judging by the applause the audiences agree. To close the concert sweetness did return in full measure with the Morton Lauridsen setting.
The concert was given at the Vivaldi Chamber Choir's usual venue of Trinity-St. Mark's Church in Kitsilano and in this instance the programme was repeated, with the same personnel, at "Gloria Dei Lutheran" in North Vancouver.
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