I don't see how the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C. could have made a more musically rewarding and emotionally uplifting contribution to the December holiday season than they did with last weekend's concert Seasons of Love. Artistic director Jeff Buhrman's programming choices were nothing less than impeccable, the full chorus and ensembles were in exceptional form, and guest musicians and instrumentalists made exemplary contributions throughout.
The concert's more traditional first half opened impressively with Vivaldi's Magnificat, introducing the formidable guest solo talents of soprano Jennifer Royall and mezzo-soprano M. Yvette Smith. A fine chamber orchestra, highlighted with flawless strings, supported the heady mix of duet, trio and chorus sections, all sung with perfect levels of intensity and finesse.
The GMCW chamber ensemble Rock Creek Singers followed the Magnificat with a fine rendition of Victor Cohen Johnson's haunting setting of the carol "In the Bleak Midwinter," followed by Arnold Bax's playful "Now Is the Time of Christymas," featuring wonderful flute accompaniment by Dan Sullivan.
The concert reached one of many sky-high points early on with Smith's rich, soaring take on "O Holy Night," intertwined seamlessly with superb accompanist Theodore Guerrant's handling of an intriguingly arranged piano part. Guerrant also shone bright on Philip Kern's fascinating arrangement of "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" with the full chorus.
Royall returned for a dazzling solo lead on Daryl Runswick's "A Little Christmas Music," an intricate, clever homage to a variety of famous classical themes. The Jewish musical tradition was beautifully acknowledged in John Leavitt's poignant and powerful arrangement of Nurit Hirsh's "Bashana Haba'ah," marked with stunning clarinet and violin work. The concert moved on to "Rejoice, O Judah" from Handel's Judas Maccabaeus, featuring an excellent solo performance by baritone Martin Good, and Judas Maccabaeus's "Hallelujah, Amen," always a welcome respite from the more frequently chosen "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah.
Highlights of the concert's more theatrically oriented second half included two sharp contributions from GMCW's close-harmony, a cappella ensemble Potomac Fever. Richard Greene's witty ode to overdecorating, "50 Kilowatt Tree," featured a remarkably bright, winning solo turn by tenor Bob Halbert, and the ensemble handled Gary Simmons's refreshing harmonization of "Merry Christmas, Darling" with aplomb.
The chorus went into high comedic gear for several numbers linked thematically by Eric Lane Barnes's quite funny salute to sissiness, "Miss Twinkleton's School for Sensitive Boys," complete with a cameo by the inimitable Ester Goldberg. Consistently impressive baritone Brandon Dubroc and tenor Jeff Hamlin contributed a beautiful rendition of Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens's "A Place Called Home" from the Madison Square Garden musical A Christmas Carol before the chorus pulled out all the stops for Rob Berman and Winston Clark's hysterical musical vignettes "What If?"
Such questions as, "What if 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus' had been written by Kander & Ebb?" and "What if Jerry Herman rewrote 'We Three Kings'?" got showstopping answers through perfect parodies of Liza Minnelli by Matt Komornik and Carol Channing by Chip Crews. Very funny stuff.
Silliness was replaced by the sublime, though, for the closing number, the versatile Barnes's arrangement of "Silent Night." Tenor Van Neel stepped in for an ill boy soprano, providing a sweet, crystal-clear tone in the solo spots, while Silvio Menzano led the chorus in ASL interpretation, culminating in a final verse performed in sign language only. The silence was overwhelming, reflecting as much beauty and emotional power as any musical number in a concert overflowing with such moments.
To learn more about upcoming GMCW events, call 202-338-SING or visit www.gmcw.org.