Review: “Sursum Corda, ‘In Dulci Jubilo'”

Photo by 205 Photography, props provided by Chelsea Antique Mall

Sursum Corda, progressing through centuries of choral music from the early 17th century to a U.S. premiere, inaugurated their 10th season with a Christmas program dubbed “In Dulci Jubilo” at Canterbury United Methodist Church last night. In one of several personable addresses to the crowd, director Lester Seigel said he hoped that the performance would be both “dulci” (sweet) and “jubilo” (rejoicing). It was.

The ensemble should be pleased with their main endeavor, which was to record a premiere of six songs titled “A Posy for the Christ Child” for choir and harp by Englishman Derek Healey, who had traveled from his home in Brooklyn to be in the audience. The choir portrayed well the contrasting moods of each of the six pieces, well-attuned to the generally mystical aspect of the set. Harpist Judith Sullivan Hicks’ lively gestures spun around the ensemble, creating contrast and rhythmic momentum.

The concert opener, the titular “In dulci jubilo” by Samuel Scheidt, featured much louder instruments pitted against the choir, trumpets played by James Zingara and Leonard Candelaria. Balance and tuning were less successful here, and the rejoicing started in a sonically massive blur, perhaps intentional. However, the follow-up piece “There is No Rose” by Melinda Bargreen had well-voiced, beautifully dissonant chords, and the translated “Marienlieder” selections were wonderful conversations of parts with vivid dynamics and text-painting, especially in the fourth piece, “The Huntsman.”

These were followed by the always delightful programmatic drum beats of “Patapan,” which enchanted in its minor key dance in spite of tuning and coordination issues, and a fascinating piece by Latvian composer Imant Raminsh titled “Come, My Light.” Starting with bare harmonies, building to an emphatic climax, and coming in a satisfying arc back to the beginning, the piece was adventurous and fresh.

A “Wassail Song of Gloucestershire” by Ralph Vaughan Williams was a high point for its energy and charm, and the jazzy arrangement by Barlow Bradford of God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen featured a strong solo by baritone Daniel Seigel. Two spirituals were performed, the first of which “O Poor Little Jesus” was carried by a delicious melody from soprano Rebecca Bolding.

Finally, in an arrangement of “Away of in a Manger,” the pop sensibilities of contemporary composer Ola Gjeilo painted a deeply reverent surface of simple, hummed chords which provided the flat icon to the well-known melody’s votive candle. The piece was a beautiful ending to the Christmas celebration, and the audience relished the last silence along with the choir.

Written by: Michael Huebner for ArtsBham.com on December 9, 2016.