Holiday performances monopolize Hampton Roads stages during December, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick to the standards every year.

Virginia Chorale performed their annual holiday concert, titled Sing We Nowell, last weekend to packed crowds at Christ & St. Luke's Church in Norfolk and First Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach. Ideally suited for vast, historic, and holy venues, the program of a cappella British holiday music was a unique way to celebrate this festive time.

Artistic Director Charles Woodward has led the Virginia Chorale since 2011. Originally founded as an early music ensemble in 1984, the Chorale is Virginia’s premiere professional vocal ensemble - their repertoire now covers music from the Middle Ages to today.

The evening opened with a charming 15th century piece called Now May We Singen, after which Woodward introduced the program’s four themes: Advent, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Epiphany.

The close-knit harmonies in the chant-like There Is No Rose were lovely. Near the middle of the piece, I noticed a nasal sound coming from the men; this issue crept up several times during the program, and became especially apparent during Magnificat ‘Regale.’ The whole chorus was well-rehearsed and every note sounded intentional and accurate, but a rounder, more “on the breath” sound would have been more pleasing to the ear.

The female singers of the Chorale blended and soared effortlessly in Robert Parsons’s Ave Maria, and Alexander L’Estrange’s Epiphany Carol. L’Estrange’s wife, Joanna Forbes, wrote Epiphany Carol’s touching and wistful text. The singers were emotive and warm as they repeated the refrain: “Oh bring me a present for the future.” Another highlight of the program’s first half was an Israeli folksong, titled S’vivon, which featured rhythmic clapping. A modern piece by Adrian Peacock was also entertaining.

The second half of the evening included popular holiday songs. These selectionswere less intriguing, but probably more accessible to those unfamiliar with choral works. Marshall Severin was a wonderful crooner during the Chorale’s rendition of The Christmas Song. Lauren Tompkins brought new life to O Come, All Ye Faithful, with an unexpected and thrilling high note. The ensemble sang a moving rendition of Softly by Will Todd.

It’s refreshing to hear modern arrangements of classic carols. That being said, the harmonies were sung with such strength and clarity that you often struggled to hear the singers assigned to the melody.

Overall, the Virginia Chorale’s holiday celebration was well-sung and elegant; Woodward led the chorus to great effect in both rarely heard gems and standard hymns, creating a unique, ambitious, and festive listening experience in two glorious local venues.

Next up for the Virginia Chorale is Nocturnes, an “evocative journey into music of the night,” February 17 and 18. Visit for tickets and more information.


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