Led by music director Walter Chapin, The Oriana Consort performed a program of “New Songs for Midwinter” at the First Lutheran Church of Boston on December 18. This well-attended concert was a repeat of their performance several weeks earlier at the University Lutheran Church in Cambridge. The program centered on music of the winter solstice, Advent, and the Nativity with works spanning three centuries.
Two motets from Hans Leo Hassler’s 1591 collection of Cantiones sacrae (Sacred Songs) opened the evening on a suitably reverential note. Next, Debussy’s Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain (Winter, you’re only a scoundrel) was paired with Abbie Betinis’s Cedit, Hyems! (Begone, Winter!). Both works are based on medieval and/or fourth-century texts exhorting winter to give way to warmth and love. Debussy’s deft scolding left the listener wishing for more; Betinis (b. 1980) punctuated bright, high quailing with an arhythmic flute obbligato (nicely played by Vanessa Holroyd).
Eric Whitacre’s stunning Lux aurumque (Light of Gold) sets a brief (English) poem by Edward Esch (b. 1970):
warm and heavy as pure gold
and the angels sing softly
to the new-born baby.
The text is, fittingly, sung in Latin. Haunting suspensions and a deeply melismatic bass create an aura of profound peace and wonder. The consort sang on an exalted level here.
Following A Hymn of the Nativity (1960) by Kenneth Leighton, six instrumentalists joined the vocalists for Henry Purcell’s O sing unto the Lord a new song (1688). Oboe and zealous trumpet augmented the expanded forces for Vivaldi’s Gloria in excelsis deo (c. 1717). Though earnestly done, both works would have benefited from a more colorful and joyous delivery; perhaps, due to the dim lighting, performers had to funnel much precious energy into simply reading their scores.
Chapin has been directing The Oriana Consort for about 30 years, and his TLC shows. According to program notes, the present ensemble evolved from a series of amateur choral groups into an “auditioned a cappella chorale of nearly thirty singers.” This was a wonderfully conceived (and enthusiastically received) program, affording many soloists within the consort a chance to shine. What better balm for a cold winter night?