Arts & Culture

Choral Christmas: A double ‘Gloria’ with extra brass in Northwest Repertory Singers’ Christmas concerts

Two different “Gloria” settings — one by John Rutter, one by Randol Alan Bass — form the base of choral Christmas concerts this weekend by the Northwest Repertory Singers, with extra shots of brass, organ and audience carols to create an experience both musical and visual.

“In the Renaissance, brass was used antiphonally as another choir,” says NWRS director Paul Schultz. “And the use of the architecture (of the space) was also in vogue. I had that in mind for opening the program.”

“Gloria: Christmas with Brass and Choir,” in fact, has a lot more than just Glorias. The program opens with a Renaissance-style introit based on “Joy to the World,” played by the eight-piece Sounds of Brass — and followed immediately by audience and choir singing that well-known carol. The choir stands on each side and in front of the audience, creating a surround-sound effect in the resonant Mason Methodist Church.

“It’s both a musical and visual experience,” Schultz says.

From there the program runs through a “fiendishly difficult” 6/8 arrangement of “Angelus ad Virginem,” John Rutter’s soothing “Christmas Lullaby,” Berlioz’ “The Shepherd’s Farewell” and “The Holly and the Ivy,” followed by “O Come All Ye Faithful” as another audience participation carol. There’s no piano in the concert — all accompaniment is on the huge Mason organ.

After intermission, though, come the Glorias.

“Initially I thought it was silly to do two Glorias in one program,” says Schultz. “But then I looked at the differences and similarities.”

The similarities, obviously, begin with the fact that both pieces are written by contemporary composers (Rutter is British, Bass American) to the Latin text “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” sung — according to the Bible — by the angels at Jesus’ birth. Both, says Schultz, write exuberantly, and are “very exciting” for both listener and musician. But the differences come in the way each composer treats the text.

The Bass, in just one long movement, uses “a bit of everything,” says Schultz: plainchant, emphasis of words, melody. The Rutter breaks the text into three movements, scoring the orchestra (here reduced to brass version, with timpani and percussion) with as much care as voices, and beginning with brass fanfare.

“The full orchestra sounds like birds singing,” describes Schultz. “The first movement is just magnificent, the second is sheer reverence, and the third goes back to the rhythm of the first.”