Missoula’s esteemed vocal ensemble Dolce Canto has released A Joyful Season just in time for the holidays. It features best-loved songs the group has sung over the years, and a few their listeners may not have heard. As usual, the choir effortlessly melds bass, soprano, alto, and tenor voices into a melodious whole that can deftly alter course into smaller configurations and back again.
Several songs were recorded live at various venues, the others at the university’s recital hall with no audience. As one would guess, stellar engineering abounds on the 15 pieces.
The album conjures a thoughtful mood, abstaining from the giddy and omnipresent commercial nature of Christmas. This is a good thing; it encourages the listener to think about what the season really means. There is a specific order to the track list, says artistic director Peter Park, designed to create a musical journey, and it works well.
A whisper of men’s voices opens the first number, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” like a prayer; “Still, Still, Still” enters with beautiful and wistfully understated “ooh-oohs” before the choir softly swaddles the lyric in hushed, ethereal tones. I love it!
“A Christmas Lullaby,” with its gorgeous melody, seems to demand the acoustics of an arched ceiling. Voices of echoing “la-la-la-laaaah-hs,” rapturous and expansive, glide over passing chords, creating movement.
The spiritual, “Glory Glory, Glory to the Newborn King,” is a showstopper. In a change of pace, tenor Thomas Hensley sings to the rafters while the chorale provides elegant, majestic background, building tension; soon the song erupts with lots of resounding “glory glories.” The sopranos lead the charge in an all-out torrent of overlapping lyrics, and everyone jumps in with a call-and-response gospel feel before the smashing ending. This one rocks! There’s much more here, all of it wonderful.
If you haven’t seen Dolce Canto, you’re in for a treat. The ensemble is performing at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 5 at St. Anthony’s Church in Missoula. Save me a seat!
– Mariss McTucker