Oriana singers and Vermont Mozart Festival Orchestra deliver masterful performance

BURLINGTON A cold brisk air pierced through Burlington to accompany the remnants of snow illuminating the night. This familiar chill functioned as an organic ornament within the holiday scene that surrounded the First Congregational Church this past Friday. Within the walls was an audience poised to enjoy the Oriana Singers perform Johann Sebastian Bachs musical account of the birth of Jesus Christ. It was of little surprise to me that the Oriana Singers, and the Vermont Mozart Festival Orchestra, performed this intricate masterpiece with grace and seemingly effortless beauty. Bach s Christmas Oratorio was written in six cantatas to be performed each day of the Christmas season starting from December 25th. The purpose of the piece was to praise the birth of Jesus Christ. The drama of the situation is communicated by a magnificent orchestral opening featuring 3 trumpets and timpani, which signify the grand nature of the birth as a whole. The Chorale sections illustrate the linear events of the story and also serve to give general praise for the situation. Because these sections are considered to be the meat of the story, they contain almost simple hymn based melodies which are easy for an audience to identify with emotionally. The magnificence of the soprano voice is one of the features of this simplicity, and the Oriana sopranos delivered these sections with splendor and accuracy in intonation. Orianas alto, tenor, and baritone sections added a high level of richness and depth, for each vocal part was distinct and transmitted a harmonic frequency that felt like candy for the ears. The Oriana soloists also contributed greatly to this pleasurable musical experience. While the Chorale sections served to illuminate the events of Jesuss birth, the solo sections functioned as an almost emotional refrain, where the feeling of wonder was represented by various vocal types throughout the piece. Therefore, Bachs vocal lines for the soloists contained ornamented and elongated passages. I was particularly impressed with mezzo soprano Monique Pelletier and her ability to sustain these phrases with perfectly even vibrato, and without compromising the richness of her tone. When Tenor John Tiranno performed the aria titled Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilt you could hear several sighs of excitement from the audience in response to his skillful execution. Additionally, the richness of bassist Gary Moreau truly gave power to the recitative sections of Bachs work. Lastly, I particularly enjoyed the Aria Duetto performed by soprano Jane Syder and Moreau. The grand nature of this performance was also prevalent in the Carol and Motet sections that the Oriana singers performed after intermission. I thought that Metcalfes decision to interject the Carols, after the first two Cantatas, helped to portray the separation that Bach intended; as he designed the cantatas to be performed on different nights during Christmas. The pleasant interruption of the Carols allowed the audience to digest the first section and become lost in the pleasantness and seasonal reflections that are always brought to mind when listening to Carols. These Carols seemed to be taken from the timeless Old English tradition featuring sweet and warm melodies, which were a perfect remedy for the bitter Vermont cold. I have personally seen the Oriana Singers perform various styles of music on many occasions in Burlington. This presentation was high on the list of favorites due to its seamlessness and ease. Metcalffe continues to select music that speaks to the core of the occasions that he wishes to commemorate, and therefore his performances seem to touch the core of his audiences. As each spectator rose to their feet in ovation, the sense of contentment could be seen on their faces. The bitterness of such a cold night was eradicated by the warmth of Orianas performance of Bachs great gift to the Christmas season.

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