About this Recording
8.579065 - FESTIVAL OF CAROLS (McNair, Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and Chamber Orchestra, Stark)

Festival of Carols

The Indianapolis Symphonic Choir is pleased to present this collection of best-loved works from the 2015 and 2016 performances of our annual Festival of Carols concerts, recorded before live audiences. As in our live performances, this recording represents a mix of familiar and newer selections that celebrate the joys of the holiday season. We are especially honoured to include here several pieces performed with our guest artist, GRAMMY Award-winning vocalist Sylvia McNair.

The first two selections capture the joyous excitement of the holidays. Mack Wilberg’s exuberant setting of Joy to the World opens this recording with a flourish, featuring brilliant writing for chorus and orchestra in equal measure. Arranged in 1971 by William Mathias, Sir Christèmas sets the anonymous 15th-century text in mixed English and French to contemporary swaggering rhythms and boisterous harmonies.

The next two works offer a thoughtful counterpoint to the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Receiving popular acclaim after singer Amy Grant’s 1992 release, Grown-Up Christmas List, by David Foster and Linda Thompson Jenner, soars with the power of McNair’s jewellike voice. The work’s sensitive plea—‘No more lives torn apart, that wars would never start … This is my grown-up Christmas list’—offers a heartfelt message of peace. Christmas Hosanna was the 2016 winner of the annual Christmas Carol Composition Competition sponsored by the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir. Utah-based composer Rob Swenson combines a shimmering accompaniment for piano and bells with evocative choral writing.

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing and This Little Light of Mine, arranged by Mack Wilberg and Moses Hogan respectively, offer updated settings of these holiday favourites, the latter sensitively led by guest vocalist Sylvia McNair.

John Rutter’s Magnificat, written and premiered in 1990, is described by the composer as a ‘Latin-flavoured fiesta’, incorporating expanded percussion in the colourful orchestration. This recording of the first movement of Rutter’s full work sparkles in lively rhythms and lush vocal writing that reflects the astonishment conveyed in the text: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour’.

Kling, Glöckchen, Kling, set by St Louisbased Stephen Mager, updates the 19thcentury German carol with deft harmonic magic that surprises and delights the ear. J.S. Bach’s beloved Sinfonia from the Christmas Oratorio, suggests the tranquillity of that night the shepherds encountered the angel with the good news of Christ’s birth.

Mary, Did You Know?, by Buddy Greene and Mark Lowry, is presented in a moving new arrangement for strings and soloist by Brian Eads. At times soaring, at times reflective, Eads’s setting treats tenderly the simple yet profound questions offered to Mother Mary.

A pair of bell songs revel in the festive imagery of the holiday season. In particular, Rutter’s setting fervently tolls, ‘All bells in paradise I heard them ring: “Glory to God on high” the angel voices sweetly sing’.

Guest artist Sylvia McNair and Indianapolis Symphonic Choir keyboard artist David Duncan pair up for a gospel-inspired rendition of Go Tell It on the Mountain, with a mix of improvisation and technical virtuosity that is as astonishing as it is thrilling.

Clement Clarke Moore (1779–1863) served as professor at The General Theological Seminary in New York City, in the area now known as Chelsea, on land donated to the Seminary by Moore himself. Yet he is now best known as the author credited with the famous poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas, first published anonymously in 1823. Now an everpresent tradition at the holidays, the charming text is presented here in a version for orchestra, chorus and narrator, in composer William Goldstein’s ’Twas the Night Before Christmas. Mixing Waring-like choral exuberance with picturesque writing for orchestra, Goldstein’s setting invites the listener hearthside for an eyewitness account of the jolly old elf’s arrival. Narrator Sherry Stark, mother of Indianapolis Symphonic Choir artistic director Eric Stark, brings Moore’s words to life with her sparkling delivery.

Two holiday favourites, Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella, arranged by Mack Wilberg, and O Holy Night, arranged by Brian Eads, are presented in stirring accounts by soloist Sylvia McNair, the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir.

The final selection is a piece that has become an annual feature of the Symphonic Choir’s Festival of Carols performances. Written in response to the events of September 11, 2001, composer Glenn Rudolph sets the richly powerful text by Thomas Troeger in The Dream Isaiah Saw. Originally composed for brass, organ and percussion, this recording features Rudolph’s own arrangement for full orchestra. Its message of hope, reconciliation and peace is one we share with all our friends in the extended Indianapolis Symphonic Choir family, whether in attendance at one of our live performances or enjoying the music through these recordings. Celebration, excitement, peace, hope and music … it’s a Festival of Carols!

Eric Stark

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