Cheryl Balay for NP-UN.
From the effective processional opening of Stetsenko’s ‘Dobriy vechir tobi’ to the final strains of a massed performance of the traditional French carol ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’, Edmontonians indulged in the annual musical mosaic led by the Ukrainian Male Chorus of Edmonton (UMCE) on Saturday December 2 at McDougall United Church.
It has become a tradition to attend this event, where the UMCE hosts two other musical ensembles to share their Christmas spirit in song. The Mill Creek Colliery Band was the instrumental addition this year. Under the precise direction of conductor David Hoyt, the rich tones of this British style brass band rang through the cathedral throughout their five selections. There was delicate handling of muted brass in ‘The Box of Delights’ with musical quotes of ‘The First Noel’ woven throughout the piece. Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ was a wonderful staple, with well-played solos. Philip Sparke’s arrangement of ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ was likened to a bolero style and was quite captivating. The broad sample of styles that Mill Creek presented, including an intrada from 1867 and a jazzy rendition of Dean Jones’ ‘Swingle Bells’, showcased this ensemble’s flexibility and enticed the listeners to come to future performances of the Mill Creek Colliery Band.
The EKOSingers is a vibrant community choir and their love of singing was apparent in their performance. This group of 19 ladies and 8 men sang their four selections entirely from memory. Director Paula Roberts’ laid back jazz style of conducting put everyone at ease and the masterful playing of Charlie Austin on keys was a treat to behold. All of their songs were easy-listening audience-pleasers, such as Vince Guaraldi’s ‘Christmas is Here’ from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Choral jazz, pop and swing genres were delivered with snappy energy and sincere smiles.
The UMCE was the main feature of the concert and conductor Orest Soltykevych had everyone in the palm of his hand, exactly where the chorus and audience should be for the show! As emcee, Orest made the audience feel welcome as he gently explained traditions such as standing for the singing of ‘Boh predvichniy’. His quick banter was appropriate and appreciated and in itself a rather rare talent. He shared conducting duties with assistant conductor Marcus Wasnea.
The 35- member male chorus performed 12 numbers. Their chords were well-balanced and in fine tune. The range of dynamics, from chest-vibrating fortissimo to tender quiet passages should make other choirs envious. Their diction was impeccable, whether they sang in Ukrainian, English or Puerto Rican Spanish. Their tone was best-suited to and warmer in the Ukrainian pieces where they most excelled. In Ostap Nyzhankivskyi’s ‘Boh pryrody’ the rhythmic pattern was evident even during the gentler and well-executed legato sections. Bohdan Jereniuk’s solo was the best part of ‘De Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy’.
The mixture of a cappella and accompanied works, with Roman Soltykevych on piano, added to the diverse collection of carols including Canada’s oldest Christmas song ‘Huron Carol’ and arrangements of traditional West Indian, Puerto Rican and Ukrainian carols. Even a Cowboy Carol was sung where the UMCE let go and sang beyond the page. That ‘Cowboy Carol’ captured an old Western movie feel and connected the singers and audience. In an arrangement of ‘Vitay Isuse’ (We Greet You, Jesus) a baby answered from the audience!
It was a delightful evening culminating in an impressive gathering of all the ensembles performing carols with the audience. The UMCE is an accomplished, respected and active component of the rich choral community in Edmonton. A Festive Mosaic has become a cherished part of launching the Christmas season.