The Christmas concert at CSI Redeemer Church, Annanagar, by its English choir conducted by Emmanuel Ponraj, accompanied by the Madras Chamber Orchestra led by Jerry Fernandez and Jeslyn Asir at the piano, was perhaps the best musical event of Christmas this year, in Chennai. Credit should go to the conductor for training the three groups — the adult choir, the junior choir and the kids choir. Here are some of the pieces from the concert that merit a special mention.
The a cappella Bach chorale “O Morning Star”, which opened the concert, described the bubonic plague that swept Europe at that time, and was immaculately rendered. Mozart’s “Gloria”, which followed, was again impeccable. Also of a high standard were the excerpts from Handel’s Messiah – “For unto us”, with a flourish of the trumpet at appropriate places; “Every Valley”, competently sung by Vijay Desikan, tenor solo; and the best item of the entire evening, the soprano solo “Rejoice greatly”, sung by Esther Rubina. “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adam sung by Rebecca Emmanuel was also top class, though the climactic high G in the chorus could have been highlighted better from the rest of the melodic contour. The arrangement was extraordinarily beautiful, with a delightful trumpet solo, and the choir giving marvellous harmonic support up to the end.
Again in “The Heavens are Telling” from Haydn’s “Creation”, the singing was of a high professional standard, but the trio of soloists was too subdued compared to the main body of the choir. The only exception to the choir’s otherwise high standard was “Lord when our haughty voices” from Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” which, compared to standard performances, lacked vitality. “Carol of the Six Christmas Bells” by Christopher Boodle was delightful, with the contrapuntal texture for male and female voices well delineated.
In the kids choir, “Mary had a Baby” was lovely, followed by “Away in a Manger” in which the diminutive boy soloist was a delight. In the junior choir, “Christmas Polka”, the favourite Jim Reeves song, with the solo by Jesica, was the most loveable. The climax to the event was the Chamber Orchestra accompanying the congregation in “Silent Night” with lit candles, leading to the all-time favourite “Hallelujah Chorus”. The instrumental medley at the end was somewhat of an anti-climax, and would have been in coherence with the overall structure of the concert, had it been at the beginning!
Special mention should be made of the excellent performances of the Madras Chamber Orchestra under Jerry and the competent piano accompaniment of Jeslyn. No praise could be too high for Emmanuel for putting together the whole show – a thoroughly enjoyable evening of Christmas music for connoisseur and layman alike.