By Louis Lebherz
WHAT THIS WRITER HEARD at the Carmel Mission last Saturday evening was an unexpected artistic triumph. One could call the Camerata Singers a community chorus, and, in fact, it is made up of selected local singers. With organist Tiffany Bedner, and under the leadership of conductor John Koza, the choir sang with confident enthusiasm and joy. One had to admire the preparation, attention to detail, excellent pianissimos, clear diction and balance between the sections. The communication between director, choir and organ was always evident even in the more difficult selections. The acoustic conditions of the Mission Basilica present a challenge with the choir on the altar steps, the organist a good distance away and the pipes primarily in the rear of the loft, and there were occasional problems with intonation, but the choir dealt admirably with these conditions.
John Rutter, the London-born choral composer, conductor and educator, said, “Choral music is not one of life’s frills; it’s something that goes to the heart of our humanity, of community, and our souls. You express, when you sing, your soul in song, and when you get together with other singers, it becomes more than the sum of the parts.” The enthusiastic audience experienced precisely what Rutter was saying as the Camerata Singers presented this, their annual Christmas concert. The repertoire was a delightful mixture of familiar carols in a variety of settings, mixed with a potpourri of challenging pieces. A number of the works were edited and arranged by English composer David Willcocks. These pieces can be found in the volume of hymns for Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and Easter, 100 Carols for Choirs. This an excellent source for familiar and original carols edited and arranged by Willcocks and Rutter. An unusual addition to the program was Magnificat (from the sixth service) by Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623). Weelkes is best known for his vocal music, especially his madrigals and church music. The audience favorite was Gustav Holst’s Christmas Day, a medley of English carols, all neatly woven together, that builds to a climactic forte. The finale of the evening was “In Silent Night” composed by choir member Julia Turner. The piece was lovingly sung by the choir, and was followed by the Camerata Singers tradition of inviting the audience to join them, along with the organ, in Franz Gruber’s Silent Night.
In March, 2017, Koza and the Camerata Singers will present John Rutter’s beautiful and haunting Requiem, with a pared-down orchestra. I would highly recommend anyone who appreciates sophisticated choral works, well-produced and well-sung, to put this concert on your calendar.