Chicago A Cappella, a top notch vocal ensemble from the Windy City, really sparkles in its new holiday recording, entitled Christmas A Cappella. The CD contains 18 songs from around the world and each number is given a superb performance by this ensemble.
A cappella singing is one of the most daunting of all vocal challenges because it uses no accompaniment whatsoever. This means that the singers must strive for perfection in intonation and achieve genuine artistry as well – especially in a recording. Well, Chicago A Cappella makes it all sound easy and natural. Whether singing an energetic “Amuworo ayi out nwa” (“For unto us a child is born”) by Nigerian composer Christian Onyeji or the hauntingly gracious “Prayer of the Venerable Bede” by Chicago composer Richard Proulx, the Chicago A Cappella ensemble gets to the heart of each song with sheer musicality and impeccable diction.
The performance of each selection are gemlike, but some of the ones that still glisten in my mind include an arrangement by Eleanor Daley of “The Huron Carol,” Stacy Garrop’s “Lo Yisa Goy,” Rosephanye Powell’s “Who is the baby?,” Gwyneth Walker’s “The Christ-child’s Lullaby,” Enrico Oweggi’s “Nyathi Onyuol,” and Chaim Parchi’s “Aleih Neiri.” James Clemens’ “Jinge a cappella” is a delightfully twisted arrangement of “Jingle Bells” that has got to be really difficult to perform without messing up.
Nine of the numbers in “Chirstmas A Cappella” were written in this millennium. “En stjerne er sat” by Danish composer Per Nørgård dates back to 1961, making it the oldest selection in the recording. They reflect a modern understanding of religious and non-religious themes that compliment the holiday season. It’s very impressive when a fine vocal ensemble like Chicago A Cappella adds to the depth of the season and gives listeners another way to explore new music.