Christmas is, for most of us, and certainly for me, a time of hearing and performing joyous music. There are many such opportunities in Kelowna and I only wish I could listen to them all. Those I have attended have been superb.

The concert presented by Alexandra Babbel's Candesca and others on Wednesday night was no exception.

To begin, the venue was sensational. I refer to Kelowna's newest performing arts centre, Bottega, situated in a peaceful east Kelowna location. The building is magnificent, having the only nine-foot Steinway in Kelowna. It is truly a performer's dream.

I have heard Candesca, Candela, the male ensemble and Babbel herself most recently in October and again last week. Babbel's choral groups continue to excel with their clear pure voices and disciplined singing. The vocal range of each singer is prodigious, with never a sign of strain even in the loftiest of notes. Their choral blend is a joy to hear. I sometimes wish their repertoire consistently included some lively, rhythmic works, for I think they would be an excellent change of pace. Having said that, repertoire is a personal choice, and they perform with ease and finesse. One of the strong skills they have developed is their sense of enjoyment. They present the complete package, fine singing, wonderful facial expressions to fit the mood of the moment and their convincing body language.

To briefly touch on some particular high points: the male ensemble singing a Bach number with 11-year-old Ian Currie as the soloist, and the version of Silent Night, arranged by their own David Naude; Candela singing an Arnold Draper work, Nowel, Nowel; Candesca performing a Babbel arrangement of O Little Town Of Bethlehem, full of shifting patterns and harmonies.

Much of the evening was given to the music of Arnold Draper. Not only is he a fine pianist and an excellent accompanist, he is also an accomplished and prolific composer. The ensembles sang several of his beautiful compositions and Babbel herself used her superb lyric soprano voice in four of his Christmas songs. Her performance did justice to the music with her controlled, subtle phrasing and her warm, rich voice.

A number of Babbel's students sang parts of Handel's Messiah. They did so last week as well, and I commented on them at that time. Suffice it to say that they once again excelled and gave convincing performances. I rarely hear these solos presented with such passion and regard to the message. They are to be commended. Any small technical shortcomings in no way detracted from the whole.

Jana Luksts is a valuable member of the troupe in that she not only sings, but plays the violin. She accompanied some ensemble work, but also played an unusual arrangement of Greensleeves (What Child is This?). She displayed a fine technique with a warm tone and good intonation. It was a joy to hear.

The big moment of the evening was the performance of Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols. For this, Candesca was joined by four ladies known as Cantare and together they produced a full rich sound. Rosemary Thomson, conductor of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, took the podium for the Britten. As always, her conducting is expressive and eloquent. I was sitting close by and was impressed by the way the singers picked up on every nuance in this somewhat complex and challenging set of carols.

It was a fine ending to a memorable night.

Marvin Dickau is an organist, pianist and conductor who has an A.Mus from the University of Alberta. He has conducted several choirs and small orchestras, has given solo piano and organ recitals and accompanied many singers and instrumentalists in Kelowna and Calgary. He is currently Minister of Music at First United Church and Executive Director of the Kiwanis Music Festival.

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