By Anthony Rodgers December 5, 2016
Heartland Men’s Chorus spread their holiday cheer this weekend with “Kansas City Christmas: Classy, Brassy, Sassy!” at the Folly Theater, combining traditional carols and their signature camp for a delightful program of festive fun.
One of the most powerful qualities of the Heartland Men’s Chorus is their dedication to a warm and blended sound, which was a wonderful aspect to this program full of well-known tunes. During The First Noel, the richness of the men’s voices combined to be heavenly. Even with choreography—and exciting lighting design—the chorus didn’t let the sound falter during Jingle Bells, and setting unexpected goofiness aside, the accompaniment sound during O Holy Night was resonant and strong.
Early in the evening, HMC featured an arrangement of John Rutter’s Gloria by Tim Sarsany for men’s chorus, brass, and percussion. The chorus did well with the change of pace from their typical fare, navigating the active counterpoints and precise Latin. During the faster sections of the work, the chorus sounded more comfortable compared to the Andante movement, which felt labored but retained a mysterious quality. Newly commissioned for this program, Winter Mantra by Hans Heruth resembled a superhero film score in triumph over the cold.
Robert Lamar Sims was outstanding as the pianist for the chorus, never wavering in his persistent playing. His flourishes in Gloria were light and directional, and one could sense the changing levels of intense emotion he put into each piece. Additional instrumentalists accompanied the chorus on many numbers, but often the sound levels were unfortunately unequal. A collection of brass players is not uncommon to be seen around the holidays, but the group for this concert met their match against the powerful voices. Only the trumpets were somewhat audible during the majority of their pieces, which was, truthfully, disappointing for a program advertising “brassy” sounds. Although the drum set was a little too heavy during the standard I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, percussive sounds were a positive addition, such as the steady shaker in Deck the Halls. A quality blend of the musical sounds was only achieved during Mark Hayes’s arrangement of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. A drumline of snare drums appeared for an exciting version of Little Drummer Boy that was a crowd favorite with its complex rhythms and dramatic gestures.
During their traditional setting of the French carol Pat-a-Pan, a militant tambourine accompanied the HMC Chamber Ensemble, but the singers articulated well enough that the words could still be heard. Another smaller group from the chorus performed an animated number with The Annoying Drummer Boy, featuring a gruff Nativity scene and a ragtag musician looking to be heard. The camp continued with the hilarious Recycle the Fruitcake, a dazzling production including grandmas, pirates, and dancing fruitcakes.
“We sing for something greater than ourselves,” said artistic director Dustin S. Cates, as he reflected on the past year, during which HMC has experienced both great performances and great loss. In tribute of their Ad Astra members (those who have passed away), an arrangement of Erin Propp’s The Frost by Absalon Figueroa was an emotional number and featured a stunning a capella section. A performance of the late Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah was also a moving gesture, as the chorus exited the stage to surround the audience with additional warmth.
HMC will take their holiday cheer to Johnson County Community College with a repeat performance of this weekend’s program on December 10.
Heartland Men’s Chorus
Kansas City Christmas: Classy, Brassy, Sassy!
December 3–4 (Reviewed Saturday, December 3, 2016)
300 W 12th St., Kansas City, MO
December 10, 2016
Carlsen Center, Yardley Hall, JCCC Campus
12345 College Blvd., Overland Park, KS
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