Later this week, 80,000 Salt Lake City music lovers will celebrate Christmas on a grand scale at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s annual extravaganza. Utah Chamber Artists marks the holiday in quieter, more intimate fashion — but the fans of Barlow Bradford’s group are no less dedicated, as evidenced by the enthusiastic capacity crowd in Libby Gardner Concert Hall on Tuesday.
The 38-voice choir and 36-piece orchestra opened the evening with Daniel Pinkham’s engaging Christmas Cantata. The three-movement cantata is the composer’s best-known work, but not as well-known as it ought to be. Bradford and his ensemble captured its bold, vivid colors with vibrant clarity.
Though the Pinkham cantata is a gem, Stephen Heitzig’s setting of the e.e. cummings poem “little tree” was the concert’s highlight. It’s a beautiful marriage of music and text, with a simplicity and sense of wonder befitting the childlike point of view. The UCA singers, accompanied by harpist Tamara Oswald, gave an utterly enchanting performance.
Michael Jesse Bennett, a longtime friend of UCA, charmed the crowd with his portrayal of the newly reformed Ebenezer Scrooge in a scene from “A Christmas Carol,” accompanied by music Bradford wrote in 2003 for the Hale Centre Theatre’s enormously popular and long-running production. Bennett’s lines didn’t always cut clearly through the orchestration, but his jolly spirit always shone through.
The evening also featured a handful of Bradford carol arrangements, showing off the composer’s versatility — a straightforward medley of “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” and “Silent Night,” stitched together with scripture readings by Bennett; a clever, slightly mischievous take on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”; an exhilarating version of “O Come All Ye Faithful”; and a rare encore, a gentle setting of “Away in a Manger.”
Christmas wasn’t the only holiday being celebrated Tuesday — as Bennett explained, it was Santa Lucia Day as well. In honor of the saint’s feast day, UCA presented Bradford’s new arrangement of the traditional Neapolitan tune, with text by Michael Chipman based on the traditional Swedish poem.
Utah Chamber Artists
“Carols and Lullabies” with narrator Michael Jesse Bennett.
When • Tuesday, Dec. 13.
Where • Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah.