A Delightful Addition to Christmas

Bryn Terfel in Wales, the latest Met Stars Live in Concert, reviewed by MARIA NOCKIN


On Saturday 12 December 2020, the Metropolitan Opera streamed a Met Stars concert starring Sir Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone, in a holiday program from Brecon Cathedral in Wales. Host Christine Goerke introduced Met General Manager Peter Gelb despite a few blips in reception.

Terfel, harpist Hannah Stone, pianist Jeff Howard, soprano Natalya Romaniw, tenor Trystan Llyr Griffiths and the traditional Welsh folk group Calan performed in Brecon Cathedral in Wales. The church was originally constructed in the eleventh century but rebuilt in the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hundreds of massed candles lit the interior, shadows from which delineated the outlines of the building's weight-bearing Gothic arches. Exterior lighting made the colors of the stained glass windows visible, and varied reflective surfaces, including sequined gowns, contributed to the play of light in the broadcast picture.

Bryn Terfel in Brecon Cathedral
Bryn Terfel in Brecon Cathedral

Terfel and pianist Jeff Howard opened with Guardian Angel by Robat Arwyn, a composer best known for his Welsh songs. First Terfel sang in English and later in Welsh, but there were subtitles for every song on this program so language was never a problem. Although he has been singing professionally for more than thirty years, he still has a gorgeous pianissimo and a wide range of dynamics. Terfel followed it with Franz Xaver Gruber's Silent Night (Stille Nacht) accompanied by harpist Hannah Stone who played with finesse but ended on an unexpected note.

Bryn Terfel and Hannah Stone rehearsing in Brecon Cathedral for the 12 December 2020 MetStars Live concert
Bryn Terfel and Hannah Stone rehearsing in Brecon Cathedral for the 12 December 2020 MetStars Live concert

Welsh tenor Trystan Llyr Griffiths joined Terfel and Howard for El Nacimiento by Argentine composer and folk music specialist Ariel Ramírez, composer of the Misa Criolla. Their duet in close harmony exhibited the beauty of operatically trained male voices. Griffiths and Howard performed Schubert's Ave Maria in the version that uses the well known prayer for its text. It's interesting to note that the composer originally wrote the work to the text of a prayer to the Virgin in Scott's Lady of the Lake.

Folk group Calan performed Gustav Holst's In the Bleak Midwinter and the traditional New Year's Eve in Caernarfon with great gusto and enormous energy. They danced while they played faster and faster than that. If times were not so dire, Caernarfon Castle might be the best place in the world to greet the new year with song, dance and Welsh-grown sparkling wine.

The Welsh folk band Calan
The Welsh folk band Calan

While Calan took a break, harpist Hannah Stone played Carlos Salzedo's Concert Variations on O Tannenbaum giving each tone the glint of a falling snowflake. Sir Bryn sang Jester Joseph Hairston's delightful Christmas Spiritual, Mary's Boy Child, which along with the song in Spanish gave a nod to the diversity of his English-speaking audience. Lerner and Loewe's recitative-like The Little Prince led up to Sir Bryn's glorious rendition of the traditional German carol, Still, still, still with glistening harp accompaniment.

Benedictus, by the composer of Guardian Angel, Robat Arwyn, is a setting of a part of the Catholic Mass that fits the holiday season, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'. Romaniw and Terfel sang with spiritual intensity, and she continued singing Adolphe Adam's much better known O Holy Night with silvery high notes.

Terfel and pianist Jeff Howard offered a thoughtful rendition of I Can Give You the Starlight from Ivor Novello's 1939 musical The Dancing Years. Then came the best song of the day, the traditional Welsh, Ar Hyd y Nos (All Through the Night) which Terfel sang with Calan. This traditional Welsh song simply exudes calm, especially when performed by people to whom it has great meaning. This rendition was a gem.

Terfel followed it with Wagner's Hymn to the Evening Star accompanied by piano and harp. Its text speaks of souls ascending to heaven, perhaps a blessed thought in this time of COVID. The finale was a performance of John Francis Wade's O Come, All Ye Faithful by all the participants. I particularly enjoyed the tenor's singing of the high line usually given to sopranos. It gave the oft-heard piece an unusually enjoyable flair.

A still frame from a New York Metropolitan Opera promotional video for this Bryn Terfel concert
A still frame from a New York Metropolitan Opera promotional video for this Bryn Terfel concert

This concert is a delightful addition to Christmas entertainment and it will be available online for US$ 20 at metstarslive.brightcove-services.com through 25 December 2020.

Copyright © 14 December 2020 Maria Nockin,
Arizona USA







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