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Review: Utah Chamber Artists freshen up familiar carols
Something old, something new — that time-honored formula made for an enjoyable evening with the Utah Chamber Artists on Monday.
Artistic director Barlow Bradford built UCA's Christmas program around two sets of carols, each set marking the centennial of its composer's birth: Benjamin Britten's beloved "Ceremony of Carols" and 10 of Witold Lutoslawski's less-familiar Polish carols. Though neither group of carols was written with a mixed choir in mind, Bradford said he couldn't resist presenting them. Hence "A Ceremony of Carols," usually sung by a three-part children's choir, was heard in a soprano/alto/tenor/bass arrangement by Julius Harrison. As for the Lutoslawski carols, Bradford explained that they were written for a unison women's choir, much to his dismay — so he "very carefully added just a few little notes" so that his choir and orchestra could perform them with mezzo Corinne Rydman.
"A Ceremony of Carols" sounds like an entirely different piece when performed by an adult choir — not just because of the added vocal parts, but because of the differences in timbre between juvenile and mature voices. For example, the lullaby "Balulalow" takes on a new subtext when the soloist is a woman (UCA soprano Melinda Kirigin-Voss at Monday's concert) rather than a child. Harpist Tamara Oswald accompanied the singers with consummate skill.
The Lutoslawski carols offered an appealing mix of simplicity and sophistication, thanks to the composer's artful setting of traditional melodies. Rydman and the UCA choir sang with polish and charm.
Monday's concert also featured three carol arrangements by Bradford, two of them brand-new. The choir and orchestra soared in his invigorating setting of the "Sussex Carol," then moved into tender mode for "All Through the Night" — not the traditional Welsh melody, but a new one by Bradford. Finally, the composer-conductor freshened up "Joy to the World" with subtle harmonic shifts.
The evening closed with a rarity: an encore that was, from all appearances, genuinely spontaneous. After the briefest of discussions, Bradford invited the capacity crowd to join in on a reprise of the just-premiered "Joy to the World." The audience, having warmed up their voices earlier on sing-alongs of "O Come, All Ye Faithful" and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," joined in gamely. We'll see if that one is on next year's program.