Review: Mendelssohn Club provides jolly time with seasonal fare
ALBANY The Mendelssohn Club was in fine fettle Friday night in its annual holiday concert at The Egg.
In keeping with the season, the stage was festively decorated with small lit trees, poinsettias and a snowflake backdrop. The men were dressed in tuxes with red cummerbunds, red bow ties and a red carnation. The theme was “Sing and Be Merry!”
The 63-voice all-male chorus sounded robust and resonant in a program that combined several old favorites, the traditional audience sing-along and a few new tunes. Conductor Jeff Vredenburg directed in a physically emotive style as the men sang with excellent diction, strong and clean phrases, tight cut-offs and solid four-part harmony, especially in the tunes that were familiar. These included the traditional carols, which the huge crowd loved, and pop tunes of the season, such as selections from “The Sound of Music,” “Joy to the World” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
In the lesser-known pieces, the 63-voice chorus sounded a bit tentative in the four-part sections, although their diction never faltered, and they used dynamic levels effectively. Michael Clement supplied solid support at the piano, where he was occasionally assisted by Michael Wright for four-hand piano accompaniment. Brenda Vredenburg on bells or tambourine provided color.
The chorus began with the less traditional material. “Christmas Comes Anew” was mellow and favored the 20-member bass section. “O Bambino” was a pretty Italian Christmas song. The audience, much to its delight, got into the act with “Do Re Mi” from “The Sound of Music,” which Vredenburg rehearsed beforehand.
As at every holiday concert, the club likes to have a guest, which on Friday was four members of the Musicians of Ma’alwyck: violinist Ann-Marie Barker Schwartz, flutist Norman Thibodeau, guitarist Sten Isachsen and, in two tunes in the second act, baritone Charles Schwartz. Although the trio played an effective arrangement of Rossini’s Overture to his opera “The Thieving Magpie” and Paisiello’s Six Variations on a theme from a 1788 opera, which Thibodeau and Isachsen performed very well, these were not the type of pieces this kind of audience wanted to hear, nor were they in keeping with the concert theme, let alone the season.
The crowd was polite, but the choices made for a lost opportunity. It was more of the same inappropriateness for the world premiere of Jack Horowitz’s Variations, which had snatches of this and that but seemed mostly inspired by Jobim’s bossa nova style. It was won over only when Schwartz joined the trio for a Jules Styne “Christmas Waltz.”
In addition to more seasonal tunes like “Frosty the Snowman,” the men sang “Light One Candle” in memory of David Griggs-Janower, the director of Albany Pro Musica, who died in August.