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Concert menu filled with Christmas fare

Victoria's classical-music community will begin celebrating the holidays this weekend, when three ensembles of local and visiting performers will offer widely diverging Christmas programs.

Victoria's classical-music community will begin celebrating the holidays this weekend, when three ensembles of local and visiting performers will offer widely diverging Christmas programs.

Alas, only one of these programs will be repeated; as a result, three of this weekend's four concerts will take place simultaneously, on Saturday evening. Which to choose?

Read on ...

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The Early Music Society of the Islands will present a substantial program of Advent and Christmas music featuring the 12-member chamber choir musica intima and the gambist Nan Mackie (both from Vancouver), along with the renowned organist Luc Beauséjour (from Montreal) and an instrumental ensemble.

(Saturday, 8 p.m., Alix Goolden Hall; pre-concert introduction at 7:10; adults $30, seniors and students $28, members $26.)

The program will include late-Renaissance music by Josquin des Prez and will close with popular carols, but its title, A Baroque Christmas, is nonetheless apt: Most of the music dates from the late 16th through early 18th centuries.

Works by Gabrieli and Sweelinck will be performed, but special emphasis will be given to German organ and polychoral music in various forms (motet, fugue, hymn, carol), by Praetorius, Hassler and Pachelbel -- the latter represented, for once, by something other than his imperishable Canon. The centrepiece of the program will be a rarely heard Christmas Mass by Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer (ca. 1656-1746), based on the Lutheran chorale Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Now Come, Saviour of the Gentiles), the text of which was itself based on a fourth-century Advent hymn in Latin.

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Awake the Harp, the Christmas program of the Linden Singers of Victoria, directed by Garry Froese, will be devoted to music for harp and chorus, and will feature the harpist Annabelle Stanley (who plays with the Victoria Symphony) and the Belmont Secondary Concert Choir.

(Saturday, 7:30 p.m., First Metropolitan United Church; adults $18, seniors and students $15, children $5.)

The program will mostly comprise traditional pieces but will open with Benjamin Britten's A Ceremony of Carols, for treble voices and harp, which Britten wrote in March 1942, at sea, returning to England after spending three years in North America. It includes short, exquisite settings of nine carols, most based on medieval English texts (Wolcum Yole!, That yongë child, As Dew in Aprille); the set is framed by a Procession and Recession based on Latin plainchant, and includes an Interlude for harp alone.

A Ceremony of Carols is not a mere medley, nor is it a telling of the Christmas story; rather, it has been aptly described as "a ceremony of innocence," a musical representation of life before the Fall of Man.

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Last year, the Sooke Philharmonic broke with its tradition of performing Handel's Messiah in December and instead offered the first three of the six cantatas that make up Bach's Christmas Oratorio, which Bach first performed, in Leipzig, in six parts, between Christmas 1734 and Epiphany 1735.

So successful was the Sooke Philharmonic's switch from Handel to Bach that it had to turn people away at the door.

And so, this year, it will perform the remaining three cantatas of the Christmas Oratorio, and will try to accommodate everyone in the Sooke-Metchosin area interested in attending by giving the program twice.

(Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Sooke Community Theatre; Sunday, 2:30 p.m., St. Mary of the Incarnation, Metchosin; adults $18, seniors and students $15, youth 16 and under $5.)

Wade Noble, a baritone soloist and the conductor of several area choirs, will lead the Sooke Philharmonic Chamber Players and Chorus, who will be joined by four vocal soloists: Nancy Washeim (soprano), Cari Burdett (alto), Delwynne Windell (tenor) and Alexander Granat (bass).

Incidentally, a portion of the ticket revenue from Saturday's concert will be donated to the Sooke Christmas Bureau.

For more information about these concerts, visit www.earlymusicsocietyoftheislands.ca, www.lindensingers.ca, and www.sookephil.ca.

Kevinbazzana@shaw.ca