November 2010

201011_washingtonchorusVivid Voices and Blazing Brass Combine for a Thrilling Holiday Recording

Dorian Sono Luminus DSL-92117
Format: CD

Musical Performance
Sound Quality
Overall Enjoyment

This is one of the most exciting big-chorus holiday recordings I’ve heard in a long time, and it’s not from the UK or Germany; it’s from this side of the pond. The performers are the Washington Chorus, the Whitman Choir, the National Capital Brass and Percussion, and organist John Bohl, all conducted by Julian Wachner, the director of the Washington Chorus. This is a downright thrilling disc, full of energy, drive, and astounding virtuosity. There are readers everywhere who find the sound of a large chorus with instrumental accompaniment the most exciting thing in music. They won’t be disappointed with this disc, and it might even create some new converts to the genre.

Most of the big carols are here -- “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” “Joy to the World,” and “The First Nowell,” mixed in with lesser-known classics like “Un Flambeau,” “Sing We to the Merry Company,” and “Good King Wenceslas,” the latter in an electrifying arrangement with dizzying trumpet swirls that are played to perfection. The other carols are heard in stunning arrangements as well, most with brass, but some with chorus alone, or chorus and harp. I was very taken with Glenn Rudolph’s “The Dream Isaiah Saw,” which closes the concert and makes very effective use of the timpani. The recorded sound is resonant and spacious but not at the expense of detail. The sounds all ring true, from delicate harp accompaniment to full chorus, resounding brass, and thunderous organ. Pretty good for a live recording (yes, there is applause but not until the very end). If you’ve been waiting for a new choral album to add to your holiday collection, this is it!

Be sure to listen to: Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” the concert’s encore piece. It’s often played in a stately tempo bordering on the funereal, but here it’s vivid and fleet, the brass playing the instrumental parts so well that you can easily forgive the lack of strings. It times out at 3:59 with applause. “Hallelujah” indeed! If you hear nothing else new this holiday season, hear this!

. . . Rad Bennett