Music Review: FESTIVAL OF CAROLS (L.A. Master Chorale featuring tenor Jonathan Antoine)

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by William C. on December 12, 2022

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


Is there anything more festive than a soaring chorus singing carols during the holiday? Listening to the LA Master Chorale in the majestic Walt Disney Hall is the perfect way to do it. Under the direction of Grant Gershon, 62 singers, pianist, organist, and percussionist make beautiful music together. This whimsical and masterful program is filled with delicious a capella numbers, traditional carols, and newly composed works. Tenor Jonathan Antoine (Britain’s Got Talent) joins the chorus in a few holiday standards with his commanding and melodious voice.

The concert, perfect for all family members, opens with the chorus taking the stage while singing “Here We Come A-Caroling,” using a proper British carol to welcome the audience and their guest performer. After another popular number, “Angels We Have Heard on High,” the chorus presents a beautiful original work. Carlo Simon’s “He Ls”  in which four soloists soared over a bed of blues harmony. Robles’s “Veni Sancte Spiritus” is a beautiful anachronistic piece of music, pairing Latin with pop music chords. I have always found this work rather moving, as the colors of the melody and chordal movements convey the simplicity and joy of this Latin prayer. It helps us laypeople, non-Latin speakers, to appreciate the beauty of the language.

“Boruch Atoh” — featuring the incredible artistry of the ensemble — is an atmospheric masterpiece. When I closed my eyes, I felt the air charged with sounds as the chorus expertly executed perfectly clean stops in whispering tones. It cannot be a Los Angeles chorus holiday concert without ensemble member Matt Brown‘s “Christmastime in California.” The cheeky lyrics always draw laughter from the audience. Mr. Antoine takes the stage with the chorus for “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, during which he wows the audience with a gorgeous tone and lustrous shaping of the well-known melody.

David O’s arrangement of “Silent Night” was underwhelming. I found the crushed melody line unappealing, and it caused the lyrics to fumble into an indiscernible mumble. The Spanish number “La Peregrinación” gives a lively color to the concert by adding congas to the ensemble.

After the first half, Master Chorale’s beautiful tour of various genres of holiday music continued. From the Celtic sounds of Shawn Kirchner’s arrangement of “Brightest and Best” to the lush harmonies of Margaret Bonds’ “Bright Star,” the chorus continues to delight with a showcase of stylistic nimbleness. Mr. Antoine’s return to the stage is clearly marked by a changing of his cape. His cheerful presence on stage is infectious. After belting out the Cornish carol “The First Noel” he is joined on the piano by no other than Mr. Gershon himself, who was clearly excited to accompany him on Chris Walden’s arrangement of “The Christmas Song.” Listening to the two masters performing is simply captivating. Mr. Antoine finished his set with a bang on “O, Holy Night.” The program ends with a spectacular performance of the late Conrad Suza’s “A Christmas Garland.” The combination of organ and piano shimmering on top of the chorus is so lush and gorgeous.

No holiday concert can end without good encores. The Chorale prepared “Carol of the Bells”, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” to close the program. It’s a long concert and their hard work received a well-deserved standing ovation.

If I had one suggestion, It would be to change Mr. Antoine’s microphone mix. I am unaccustomed to hearing operatic voices amplified, especially by a handheld. It could be my ignorance, but unlike a typical pop or R&B singer, classically trained opera singers do not often work with microphones. So, a handheld mic does not capture his sonority and vocal techniques. There could be a disconnect between the amplified voice and the chorus.

I thoroughly enjoyed the program. The Master Chorale will present this holiday program once more this coming Saturday, Dec 17th. Go! Treat yourself and your friends by attending this Los Angeles tradition.

Festival of Carols
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Walt Disney Concert Hall
ends on December 17, 2022
for tickets, call 213-972-7282 or visit LAMC

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