Chicago Chamber Choir sings the season, French style

Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 12:07 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson


Formed in 1996, the Chicago Chamber Choir may not offer a season of vast plenitude with just three programs on tap in 2009-2010. But under artistic director Timm Adams, the 42-member chorus showed itself a gleaming and versatile ensemble in a Christmas program a la francaise presented Sunday evening at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ

The program, Chants de Noel: A French Christmas, was notches above the standard holiday choral fare, both in terms of execution and programming, with a rarity by Saint Saens and an assortment of carols either sung in French or derived from French origins.

Adams said this year’s French program is the first of an annual series with future Christmas stops in Spain, Germany and Poland, and the project could hardly have started with a more auspicious debut.  As the informative notes by Erin Connor and Adams pointed out, the carol tradition largely began in France, with the carole, a medieval round dance, later evolving into the triple-meter style that conveys the lilt and spiritual cheer of the settings.

Artistic director Adams has clearly built the 40-member Chicago Chamber Choir into a superb ensemble, strong across all sections, scrupulously blended, and capable of daunting power as well as refined sensitivity.

Among the highlights Sunday night were the lovely Venez, me enfant, a glowing account of Poulenc’s motet, O Magnum Mysterium, and an exquisite rendering of Il est ne le divin enfant, the John Rutter arrangement a fine showcase for the choir’s gorgeous soprano voices.

Did Saint-Saens write any music that wasn’t wrought with the greatest craft and melodic richness?   Apparently not, judging by the evening’s major work, his Christmas Oratorio.

The French composer doesn’t follow the nativity story in his sacred texts or present the dramatic qualities of, say, Handel’s Messiah, but his oratorio offers much inspired music, skillfully arranged for chorus, small string ensemble, harp, organ and solo voices.

Give credit to artistic director Adams for programming this seasonal rarity, but it may have been a bit ambitious to distribute the many solos among his choral members, with dedicated but highly variable results. Soprano Beth Campbell and baritone Elliott Nott provided the most professional polish and vocal gleam in the duet, Benedictus, qui venit in nomine Domine.

The choral singing was most impressive, however, with Adams drawing radiant, finely shaded ensemble vocalism in the contemplative passages and expressive grandeur to the closing Tollite hostias.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m.  Tuesday at the Music Institute of Chicago in Evanston.; 312-409-6890

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Chicago Chamber Choir sings the season, French style”

  1. Posted Dec 16, 2009 at 9:29 am by Cathy Kight

    Professor Timm Adams:

    You ALL were amazing! Thank you for the delightful, uplifting music to prepare us for a wonderful Christmas season. I look forward to attending more of the CCC programs.

    Also, as always – Kyle Shiver – YOU rock!
    Cathy Kight

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