“Christmas in the Basilica”: Songs of hope and beauty
The voice of a young boy, faint at first within the vast space of the Basilica of St. Josaphat, grew stronger. All the voices of the Bel Canto Boy Choir joined in and filled the spectacularly decorated church. The basilica’s organ thundered to life, and the adult Bel Canto Chorus sang It’s Advent. Thus began the BCC’s Christmas in the Basilica concert.
The crystal purity of the Bel Canto Boy Choir complemented the booming Bel Canto Chorus. Especially stirring was Still, Still, Still, sung by the Bel Canto women, as led by BCC music director Richard Hynson. Numbers by the Milwaukee Handbell Choir felt a bit flat after the complex harmonies and reverberating voices of the choirs. But something in the simplicity of the sound and in the repetitive actions of the players made the handbells hypnotic.The first half ended with a beautiful 14th century German carol, In Dulci Jubilo. When the sopranos hit their high notes in this song my spine tingled. Only The Sheperd’s Pipe Carol, distracted from the natural flow of the program. It felt a bit discordant with the previous soft, delicate carols and seemed to come out of nowhere.
The haunting Coventry Carol – perfect for the Boy Choir — opened the second half and preceded the delicate crescendos of Silent Night. Ding, Dong! Merrily On High! and Mary Had a Baby were nice additions, sandwiched in between more classical carols. Pachelbel’s Christmas Canon’s repetitive beauty matched the earnest faces of the boy choristers.
Go Tell It on the Mountain, exultant yet tender, reminded us to spread the good news of the season. Even I, a long-time cynic in such matters, was touched by the messages of hope and goodwill. Four sing-alongs broke up the routine of the show and made us all feel part of the concert. The handbell choir’s last medley featured my personal favorite, Carol of the Bells. And the Bel Canto Chorus’ final song sent us home on a hopeful high. The last note seemed to echo as long as the prolonged applause and standing ovation, which was a very long time, indeed.
The Bel Canto will repeat this program at 3 p.m. today (Sunday, Dec. 5), but that performance is SOLD OUT.