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Church hangs on to Christmas

Polyphony: Voices of New Mexico will present a holiday concert on Friday at the Cathedral Church of St. John.

Polyphony: Voices of New Mexico will present a holiday concert on Friday at the Cathedral Church of St. John.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two days after Christmas and the holiday spirit remains strong at the Cathedral Church of St. John.

The Episcopal church in Downtown Albuquerque is celebrating the season – and the Feast of St. John – on Friday, Dec. 27 with a concert by Polyphony: Voices of New Mexico.

“Between Christmas and New Year’s there are a lot of feast days.

“There’s a celebration of some saint or other and St. John is the patron saint of the cathedral,” said Maxine Thévenot, Polyphony’s founder and artistic director.

The concert is titled “Baroque Splendor” and will feature Part One of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah,” Part One of J.S. Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” and an eight-part setting of the “Magnificat” that is attributed to Dietrich Buxtehude.

“You hear a lot of ‘Messiahs’ in and around Albuquerque and New Mexico, but you rarely hear just the Christmas portion, which is Part One,” Thévenot said of the famous Handel work.

Regarding the Bach oratorio, she said, in about the year 1734 the composer was believed to have been writing large-scale oratorios for the church year in Leipzig, Germany.

“It dawned on him that it would be a great idea to compose a six-movement work. And what he did was to have one movement performed at St. Thomas Church and the next movement at St. Nicholas Church, where he also worked,” she said.

“So the movements were performed every day or every other day or every third day, depending on when the feast days fell. People traveled (to both churches) and got to hear all six movements” of what became known as the “Christmas Oratorio.”

The Bach and the Handel were written within about 10 years of each other, Thévenot said.

“They’re very similar in that they have orchestral introductions or overtures. They have movements just for chorus and movements that highlight different soloists – soprano, alto, tenor, bass,” she said.

“In the ‘Christmas Oratorio,’ there’s more of a sense of a narration. The tenor is speaking as the Evangelist, who is telling the story.”

Thévenot said the Buxtehude “Magnificat” is about eight minutes long and uses the biblical text in which the angel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary “that she’s with child and the conversation Mary has with herself about how blessed she really is. Stylistically, it features bel canto singing so it’s highly florid, just really beautiful music.”

Thévenot said she’s toying with the idea of ending the concert with a rendition of the Hallelujah chorus from the “Messiah,” if the audience is up for it.

All of the soloists in the concert are members of Polyphony. For this concert, the ensemble will have 22 voices. Joining them will be a chamber orchestra led by violinist Debra Terry.

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