Sincerity shown brightly in the Berkshire Theatre Group’s A Christmas Carol this year. The show fit beautifully into the Colonial Theatre. It looked stunning. There was no excessive amplification—a thousand thank-you’s for that! Even after several iterations, all cast members from the smallest chirping child to master actor Eric Hill as Scrooge, came right at us with intensity and sweetness. The show is so well-constructed that it completes the novella, makes it richer. Actors of all ages found ways to advance the performances of their peers. This was one of the best productions I have seen this year, because it really did the impossible—it combined scenic opulence with direct, honest playing.
Much the same could be said about the Boston Camerata’s sterling program in the Union College Chapel. The ancient Christmas story was told in a no-nonsense way, using early American song settings in the main. It was so fine to hear these pieces elegantly sung, rather than brayed out in a shape-note hootenanny. The solo performers must be praised individually: Anne Azéma’s inimitable voice retains all of its innocence; she makes you listen. Deborah Rentz-Moore’s rich alto filled the hall with its warmth and intense phrasing. The clarity of tenor Daniel Hershey’s singing and the beautiful word-painting and intensity of baritone John Taylor Lord. Bass Joel Fredericksen once again cast a spell with the rich beauty of his singing. One never tires of this group; their performances are always generous.
It was great to hear Kenneth Cooper’s Berkshire Bach Ensemble in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall once again, on New Year’s Day. This place is simply unbeatable as an acoustic venue. And there was Haydn! One hears so much about Haydn, but actually hears so little. Symphony No. 31, “The Hornsignal,” was superbly played by a young or not-so-young bunch with wild energy and style. I enjoyed particularly the virtuoso playing of violinist Yoon Yung Yang. This young player was able to combine red-hot virtuosity with sweetness. The always generous Haydn offers several players solo opportunities, and each was taken with real class. Most of all it was wonderful to hear the shape and comedic delight this composer offers us. I’m working on The Creation right now, and it makes me smile. We know that Berkshire Bach’s performances of its namesake master will be dependably rich and brilliant, but it was a thing of delight to hear more Haydn live, very live, exuberant, played by these fine artists.