Jeffrey Manns has taken on the daunting role of assistant conductor of the Delaware Valley Chorale while David Christopher is on leave and he is putting all of his energy into the task. The concert began with a haunting organ solo of O come, o come Emmanuel. The fifteen male choristers were in position as the ladies marched forward from the back of the church to join them. The antiphonal echoes in Terry Schlenker’s arrangement sometimes made it appear that various sections were starting a beat late. Schlenker’s arrangement of Let all moral [SIC] flesh keep silence had some very interesting effects with parallel fifths which evoked an intriguing oriental flavor. The organ bass line helped guide the male singers in their fugue but the high pitches from the sopranos were a bit shaky. Of the father’s love begotten went more smoothly as the choir settled in, but the final phrase by Gus Mercante came out far too loudly.
In the bleak midwinter featured Fa Lane Fields’ pure yet fully rounded soprano voice which carries well and yet retains the delicacy of a child’s voice. Lloyd Shorter’s English horn and Kimberly Doucette’s strong soprano voice had no trouble standing out above the chorus, organ and piano in Maurice Besly’s The shepherds had an angel. Witnessing the magic of laser-like musical focus by Ms. Doucette and Mr. Shorter reminded me of what making music should be.
The Giovanni Gabrielli Hodie was ruined by the singers’ efforts to sing more loudly than they could comfortably manage. Kurt Collins’ brilliant organ accompaniment had sparkling glissandi and the brass chorale (George Rabbai and Jonathan Barnes, trumpet, Timothy Soberick, tenor trombone and Barry McCommon, bass trombone) had great verve, bounce and clarity. Organ and brass were allowed to show their lively musicality as soloists in the Gabrielli Canzona per sonare No. 4.
For me the highlight of the concert was the Daniel Pinkham Christmas Cantata. It was clear that Mr. Manns had focused all of his rehearsals on this difficult piece. The pitches were accurate, the diction was outstandingly clear and the dynamic he demanded of the chorus was soft enough to allow the muted brass chorale at the end of the O magnum mysterium to be heard as a whispering shimmer.