Donald Rosenberg, Cleveland Plain Dealer — Dec 5, 2010
Audiences tend to flock to the familiar at holiday time, embracing such favorites as Handel’s “Messiah,” “The Nutcracker” and “A Christmas Carol.” Fine and dandy, but there’s a world of other seasonal works waiting to touch hearts and captivate ears.
Quire Cleveland, the professional chorus founded in 2008, last year began performing a holiday program filled with selections most listeners likely had never heard.
For its second annual “Carols for Quire” program over the weekend at Trinity Cathedral in downtown Cleveland, the ensemble and artistic director Ross Duffin repeated many pieces they presented at the inaugural event, while adding new — meaning old and older — material.
Quire Cleveland concentrates on music from the Medieval through Baroque eras, though this year’s holiday program also contained tunes from the 19th and 20th centuries. To all of these pieces, the 16 voices applied seamless interplay, keen sense of blend and pinpoint intonation.
Duffin chose a vast expanse of music for the occasion. Several composers were well-known masters (Bach, Byrd, Gabrieli, Holst, Praetorius, Victoria). Many still wouldn’t come close to household-name category, despite their obvious gifts. A handful of the carols emanated from the brains of anonymous creators.
The ensemble performs the bulk of its repertoire a cappella, allowing the singers to focus on words and interweaving lines in intimate communion. Only one choral piece on the program, Gabrieli’s “Hodie Christus natus est,” required the services of a pipe organ, which Jonathan Moyer, a member of the bass section, played with discreet sensitivity.
Everyone in the audience no doubt savored specific selections. On the top of my list was Holst’s “In the bleak midwinter,” a piece of tranquil beauty that Duffin and the chorus shaped rapturously, as if transported from another realm.
But warmth and vibrant spirits pervaded the program, which included myriad plums of long ago. The singers made particularly elegant work of the buoyant rhythmic changes in Lasso’s “Resonet in laudibus” and the bright festivities that invigorate Byrd’s “This day Christ was born.”
Among the goodies were French and Spanish carols, songs from the New World (by Billings and Read) and even a Canadian selection, St. Jean de Brebeuf’s “The Huron Carol,” in a lovely arrangement by Canadian native Duffin.
Amid these performances, organist Moyer sent sonorities to every corner of the cathedral on a portable organ in Louis-Claude Daquin’s “Onzieme Noel,” with its spectrum of colors, and took to the church’s imposing Flentrop to animate the theme and variations in Michel Corrette’s noel, “Un jeune pucelle.”
Duffin and company followed glowing accounts of music by Praetorius, Bach and Johann Walther with a popular carol, “Angels We Have Heard on High,” in which the audience had a joyful chance to put in its vocal two cents.