The Arundel Vocal Arts Society's Christmas Tidings program on Sunday not only showcased the singers' strengths, but primed the audience's holiday spirits.
Musical director David B. Daniel conducted the 37-member chorus in Mozart's "Te Deum" and Vivaldi's "Gloria," along with a selection of Christmas carols and a variety of 19th-century and contemporary seasonal music.
Written in 1769 at age 13 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the "Te Deum" was sung simply and purely by the choristers, with little emphasis on harmony, to reveal the pure homophonic text.
Shorter works celebrating the birth of Jesus included Michael Praetorius' 16th-century composition "Psallite, unigenito," which combines Latin with the vernacular German in alternating lines, and Felix Mendelssohn's "Weihnachten," which the Vocal Artists sang at Calvary United Methodist Church with a reverential glow and warmth.
The hymn "Gloria" establishes grandeur in a message of peace to men of goodwill. It is divided into 11 movements for chorus and orchestra, with four featured soloists. This work was well-presented by the Vocal Artists and a 10-piece orchestra made up of violins, a trumpet, oboe, viola, cello, bass and keyboard.
The "Laudamus te" ("we praise thee, adore thee, glorify thee") was sung by Sandra Boyd and Dorothy LaPenta, whose performance reflected the joy of this hymn of praise.
Soloist Dawn Ward was outstanding in "Domine Deus" ("O Lord God, heavenly King") as she sang with the choir, sounding prayerful, and later in her solo "Qui sedes ad dexteram," summoning urgency and gravity in the second passage. Soloist Theresa Wolf sang an appropriately understated "Agnes Dei." The full chorus was movingly compelling on "Gratias agimus tibi" and in the entire work that ended on a majestic and prayerful "Cum sancto spiritu."
The second half of the program featured Gustav Holst's "Four Old English Carols." Other highlights included a bright and spirited rendition of contemporary composer Stephen Paulus' "The Holly and the Ivy" and a dramatic work by conductor Daniel titled "The Blessed Birth."
The audience was invited to join the chorus in singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" to end the concert on a festive note.
For many of its 24 seasons, the Arundel Vocal Arts Society has benefited from the presence of Michael Gilles, who provides a wealth of knowledge laced with enormous charm as concert narrator.
The strong presence of the 10 male singers was also noteworthy, despite their number shrinking since last year.
Daniel's thoughtful program succeeded more than last year's esoteric one that he chose as his introduction to the local audience. I was pleased to hear the strengths of the Arundel Vocal Arts Society highlighted - a cappella singing that produced a beautiful sound that most church choirs would be proud to summon, and professionalism, conviction and musicianship.
Membership in AVAS is open to the community, and singers are encouraged to arrange an audition by calling 410-268-3131. Regular rehearsals will resume Jan. 10.