This seems to be a vintage year for the Choral Art Society’s Christmas at the Cathedral concerts, with new music admirably performed, strengthening of old favorites and brilliant playing by the Portland Brass Quintet.

Organist Dan Moore contributed not only on that instrument, but also on keyboard and synthesizer.

Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer’s “Snowforms,” which I had been looking forward to, lived up to expectations and was even better sung by the sopranos and altos of the Choral Art Singers than by the singers on a recording I had heard earlier. It is a difficult piece, with a graphic score — two long lines, divided into 5-second pulses, without notes — but it painted a vivid musical image of the many forms of snow, down to the kind of chuckle one hears between the gusts of a blizzard.

“Snowforms,” sung by choirs at each side of the nave, and conducted by music director Robert Russell from the podium, set the stage for the traditional processional of “Personent hodie voces puerlae” (1582). That work seemed to me more powerful than in previous years.

It was followed by a delightful “Dirait-on,” a setting by Morten Lauridsen of a poem by Rilke about the secret life of a rose. The intricate voice entrances seemed to take the shape of multiple concentric petals.

Rachmaninoff’s “Bogoroditse Devo, raduisya,” the Ave Maria from his “All-Night Vigil,” was well sung in six-part harmony, but as usual could have used more basses.

Gustave Holst’s “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” is one of that composer’s stranger works. The vocal setting is straightforward in typical Holst style, but the organ part — not an accompaniment — seemed written in a different key.

John Rutter’s “Wells Jubilate,” was a choir director’s special in spades, with both the organ and the brass quintet at full volume along with the chorus. It was a little too much celebration, while the words of Psalm 100 were from the abominable revised standard Bible rather than the great poetry of the King James version.

I had heard Carol Barnett’s “Bluegrass Mass” sung by Women in Harmony a couple of years ago. Its “Ballad,” sung on Saturday by Susan Frank, was a good try at combining the mass and bluegrass, but the “Glory be to God on High” was unwieldy for a large chorus.

In its Christmas medleys, the Portland Brass Quintet was in top form, reverberating from the rafters. Their parody variations on “I Saw Three Ships” was wit in virtuoso style.

Maine composer Harold Stover, who was in the audience Saturday night, was well represented by his “Shall I Tell You Who Will Come to Bethlehem?” which combines a medieval carol beat with a contemporary idiom to tell a child’s story of other visitors to the manger.

The show stopper of the evening was a gospel setting of “The Rain is Over and Gone,” by Paul Halley. Authentic and powerfully sung by Elinor Lisa, it earned the first standing ovation for a soloist I’ve seen in the cathedral.

The capacity audience joined enthusiastically in carol singing, and the recessional was “Silent Night,” with a solo in the original German by Rachel Keller and descant by Heidi Seitz.

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

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