Music, Vocal music

Ringing in Christmas Cheer with the Cherry Creek Chorale and the Rocky Mountain Ringers

A review by Ruth L. Carver

The Cherry Creek Chorale was joined by the Rocky Mountain Ringers in their appropriately named seasonal program “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” A throng of listeners crowded into the hall at Bethany Lutheran Church and they were rewarded with a lively yet laid-back program of holiday favorites (seen December 12). The Chorale and Ringers both presented rich ensemble sound in an evening that felt like a family affair.

Cherry Creek Chorale

Cherry Creek Chorale

The interest in holiday choral programs is all about the arrangements. The audience is so familiar with most of the traditional tunes and versions, that an arranger can make or break a new version with their skill in layering choral voices, and adding texture in the piano, organ, or bell accompaniments. Here, the choir and bells sounded their best in the handful of unfussy, traditional arrangements on the program, and displayed a powerful, resonant choral blend at the best moments.

The program began with a slow, ceremonial march in to the hall, singing John Leavitt’s arrangement of “Personent Hodie.” The bells and chimes played by the Ringers lent a pleasingly percussive, ritualistic sound to the Medieval carol, yet the beautiful modality was disrupted by a needless key change. The Ringers’ leader Jeffrey Harms led the ensembles in “Sing We Now of Christmas” to the French tune <Noel nouvelet, in an effective and rhythmically vibrant arrangement. Uri Ayn Rovner and Renee Posey’s flutes made a cheery addition to the lovely “On Christmas Night (Sussex Carol),” where the choir was at ease and impressed with a full-throated finish.

Perhaps the most effective piece of the night was the least familiar: Gustaf Nordqvist’s Swedish carol “Wonderful Peace (Jul, Jul, StrĂ¥lande Jul).” Here, under conductor Brian Patrick Leatherman’s hand, the Chorale revealed an evocative and hauntingly hushed sound, with the bass section anchoring the large group effectively in resonant low notes. The lovely, straightforward melody and rich harmonies of this piece made it a welcome addition to the program of holiday standards, which other choirs would do well to program.

Rocky Mountain Ringers

Rocky Mountain Ringers

The Rocky Mountain Ringers are at home in this season – when else are bells so much a part of the sonic landscape? In “He is born (Il est nĂ©),” perhaps the most charming of French Christmas carols, they displayed the diversity of sounds possible in a bell choir, with crowd-pleasing panache. They offered a solo set of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” in a jazzy, syncopated arrangement, the plaintive and poignant “Coventry Carol,” which here lost some of its harmonic starkness but retained the aching beauty of a vocal version, and finally the athletically impressive “Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24” by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It was obvious when the players were having fun, so the audience had fun too. The group has a wonderfully balanced ensemble sound, with each player in sync with the whole, and they played throughout with rousing precision.

The audience got in on the act with a few fun sing-a-long carols. The vocal jazz ensemble drawn from within the Chorale, the CherryTones, sang an a cappella set, including an appealing arrangement of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from the Nutcracker. Pianist Cindy Runkel supported the choir effectively throughout, and got her own moment to shine in an extended and embellished arrangement, “Fantasy on Deck the Halls” by Robert Vandall. In a potpurri program like this, the audience can sit back and absorb the sounds of the season with ease, and the crowd here definitely got in the holiday spirit. For those really listening, there were gems of true musical clarity and brilliance to be found amongst the old familiar tunes.

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