What has become a tradition for those seeking the more spiritual side of the holidays again rewarded concert-goers as the a cappella choir Renaissance Voices, under Harold Stover, performed its Christmas program at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke on Saturday.

The selections, interspersed with appropriate poetry readings, were fresh, sometimes unusual and always well-sung — now if the director could just recruit one more good basso profundo. Still, the balance, a little on the angelic side, was perfect for the season.

The evening began with two works by Hans Leo Hassler (1562-1612), “Cantate Domino” and “Dixit Maria Ad Angelum.” They were followed by Wallace Stevens’ “The Snowman” and two works from the 13th and 14th centuries, whose vocal lines, accents and drum accompaniment transported one straight to the Middle Ages.

Francis Polenc’s “Quatre Motets Pour le Temps de Noel” combines deep, if new-found, religious feeling and traditional texts with a thoroughly modern sensibility. The result is sometimes unearthly, as in the strange two-note motif for the word “magi” and the unusual harmonies of the four sections, especially their conclusions.

The work is extremely difficult to sing, but the choir managed it admirably.

The second half of the program began with a pleasant surprise, a wonderful “Exultate Deo” by Alessandro Scarlatti. It had everything that pianists love in the sonatas: melody, clear delineation of parts, which enter and depart in rapid order, and strong rhythm.

Four “Chansons de Noel” by Belgian composer Francois-Auguste Gevaert (1828-1908) concluded the Christmas concert. If they were not so pure and well-framed they might be called easy listening. Sung in French by the choir and an excellent solo quartet, they were the epitome of peace and love.

The encore was in the same Christmas spirit: the carol we have come to know as “Angels We Have Heard on High,” which began as “Les Anges Dans nos Campagnes,” sung in the original French to the music of an unknown composer from Languedoc.

Also in keeping with tradition was the length of the concert — not too long and not too short, but just right.

 

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at: [email protected]