Seattle Pro Musica’s annual Christmas concert is a gourmet event for music lovers. Many of the superlatively-sung carols in this year’s version have familiar melodies but often in less familiar guise, be it an ancient setting from centuries ago, or one from a 20th-century composer with adventurous harmony.
Titled Weihnachten, the concert, performed Saturday night at Town Hall, was of Christmas music from Germany. It is repeated Friday, December 14, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, December 15, at 3 and 7:30 p.m., at Bastyr University Chapel in Kenmore. Tickets are $12 to $35.
The earliest and anonymous carol came from the 14th century, but is still one that many know today as “Unto Us a Boy is Born.” The small women-only choir of Pro Musica sang it processing in with candles, in a darkened hall — amazingly well together since they came in two streams from opposite sides of the hall, singing with pure almost boy-like voices and perfectly on pitch. They continued with a gentle 13th-century carol in two parts and then with the first verse of “In Dulci Jubilo” (in a 15th-century setting) as more and male members of the choir gathered on stage to join in.
Throughout the concert the choir shifted seamlessly from small women’s group, small men’s group, medium-size choir, and the entire 70-voice choir. This kind of moving around can seem disjointed and interfere with the flow of a concert, but here it was accomplished very easily. Whenever there was movement, conductor Karen P. Thomas (in her 25th season of conducting the choir) took the microphone to make brief comments about what was coming.
She had constructed the program around different versions of three well-known carols. “In Dulci Jubilo” was one of them, also performed later in the program in two versions by the early-17th-century’s Michael Praetorius: one in four parts, the second for double choir, much more ornate.
The other two were the carol we know as “Joseph dearest, Joseph mine,” which came, all with different words, in 16th-, 17th-, and 20th-century versions; and “Lo, How a Rose e’er Blooming” (“Es ist ein Ros entsprungen”), which came in the version many know by Praetorius and also in a wonderfully intricate arrangment by the 20th-century’s Hugo Distler.
In between came other carols, some familiar, some not, some for big choir, some for small, but all sung with clear words. In this concert, the choir used almost no vibrato including in the solos, so that harmonies were remarkably pure throughout. The first half included Baroque and Renaissance music and 20th-century arrangements of these. After intermission Thomas and the choir turned to the 19th and early 20th centuries with works much more romantic in style.
A moving performance of Franz Biebl’s well known “Ave Maria” sung by the men was a highlight. The only work which did not quite reach the heights achieved otherwise throughout the concert was Cornelius’ “Die Koenige,” where the soloist tended to chop up his lines instead of allowing them to flow.
At the end, Thomas and the choir led the large audience in three carols, in English and again in German: “Est ist ein ros Entsprungen,” “O Tannenbaum,” and “Silent Night.” The sound lifted up into the roof of Town Hall, and the entire evening made a fine beginning to the Christmas season.