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Drama adorns Waverly's holiday program

MUSIC REVIEW

December 10, 2002|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

The Waverly Consort's "Christmas Story" digs into the past, finds great drama there and ends with a glorious blessing. Sung and enacted Sunday afternoon in the soaring Gothic-inspired confines of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Mid-Wilshire (and repeated Monday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts), the program told the familiar story of the birth of Christ through unfamiliar music ranging from the 10th to the 15th centuries, drawn from Spain, Italy, France and Britain.

The seven vocalists showed mastery in the range of styles, from a jaunty 12th century song addressed to an ass bearing one of the Magi to the grating close intervals of a 14th century English Kyrie. Often they sang their difficult music a cappella. But a five-member period instrument ensemble -- including wife and husband founders Kay Jaffee and Michael Jaffee -- also provided bewitching support.

In fact, it was a burst of instrumental music that depicted the sophistication and corruption of Herod's court, where the dramatic conflict of the story arose: Herod's fear of another king leading to the slaughter of the innocents. Here the concert became as vivid as opera. Splendid irony occurred whenever characters addressed this mostly forgotten -- apart from the Christ story -- royal with the words "O king, live forever!"

While the pain of the grieving mothers (sung powerfully by mezzo-soprano Carolann Buff) was not easily forgotten, the final Te Deum, sung by all the ensemble members, did much to alleviate it. The pure tones of the hand bells they rang enveloped the audience in a kind of benediction. The program was part of the Chamber Music in Historic Sites series sponsored by the Da Camera Society of Mount St. Mary's College.

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