Kantorei, Bach Chamber Choir welcome the holiday

Kantorei, Bach Chamber Choir welcome the holiday

By Georgia Pampel, Music Critic

The Bach Chamber Choir has been drawing select audiences to its gem-like

concerts for 20 years now, and the joy of participating in a polished musical event continues to draw fine voices from the Rockford roster.

Last year, when the Choir said a fond farewell to their founder, Wayne Hatwich, when he chose to move to the far South, somehow we were confident that the same forces would bring a new director who could maintain the Choir’s traditions of quality and character.

Saturday evening, Dec. 13, at First Lutheran Church on Third Street, the Bach Chamber Choir confirmed our trust, as they presented a Christmas celebration under the leadership of their new director, Eric Johnson, and were joined by the ever-amazing Kantorei Singing Boys of Rockford, directed by Joel Ross. Trish Rooney, who seems to turn up all over the place these days, did the honors at the organ console with her customary top

musicianship, and there was a brass ensemble (plus percussion) to wake us

once more to their special sounds of triumph.

At no time did the program bow down to the conventional Christmas clutter; not a single reindeer or sprig of mistletoe, but rather a thoughtfully ordered view of the season, a season of love and peace, opening with music rooted in the Old Testament prophecies, followed by a group focused on the nature of the Virgin Mother, then the Savior’s birth and finally some glorious “Glorias,” to celebrate that gift, which ultimately must remind us that all births are miracles, and that all babies are to be treasured and beloved.

Ranging in time from an arrangement of the 12th century’s “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” to contemporary works by Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943), John Rutter (b. 1945) and Henry Mollicone (b. 1946), the program had a seamless quality to it that defied stylistic categories. Making good use of the balcony and the size of the choirs, Eric Johnson’s program used a lot of antiphonal settings, so that the contrast of large groupings, balanced against quartets, quartets echoing each other, and the acoustical marvel of having the music coming from different corners of the hall to blend into an organized unity, made each work stand out for itself.

Pastor Timothy Kenyon welcomed the gathering, offering us a bit of history about the 1883 building, which made good use of the Swedish woodworkers who had come to Rockford at that time, and then, of course, “Mr. Bach” (dramatist R.J.Lindsey) spoke briefly about his own labors of training a boys’ choir, at a time when politics forced him to take in singers who “couldn’t carry a tune in a basket”.

Both choirs delighted us with their clarity of intonation, total blending of sounds, and musical understanding, and the Kantorei get an extra bow for performing the night before their own major Christmas concert on Sunday afternoon.

Eric Johnson, who is director of Choral Activities at Northern Illinois University, just received his Ph.D. in Music from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The program notes, clearly written and informative, had an extra scholarly polish that makes me suspect he was their author. I look forward to more of the same at their spring concert, when they will give us the Bach B Minor Mass with five soloists.

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