Reviewed by David L. Schriber
Full pews last Saturday (Dec. 18) at Memorial Park Baptist/St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Vestal welcomed the Bronzissimo! select handbell choir for its winter concert. From an energetic opening of “Adeste Fidelis” to the choir’s traditional spirited “Hyfrydol” encore honoring the memory of founding member and former conductor Doris Eggleston, the ensemble offered a variety of sacred, secular and classical holiday songs, including a Hanukkah medley.
The program included a couple of unusual numbers. One was Linda McKechnie’s arrangement combining “Joy to the World” with Benedetto Marcello’s “Psalm 19.” The other … Can you imagine a Louis Vierne organ composition (“Carillon”) arranged for handbells? You had to excuse a couple of stutters in rhythm and respect a group taking on a piece by the French composer so noted for his expansive music.
This year brought some roster changes. Playing their first Bronzissimo! concert were Evie Sessions, Paula Giroux and Denise Johnson. Johnson is handbell choir director at Central United Methodist Church in Endicott, which grants Bronzissimo! use of its equipment and rehearsal facilities.
Hard to miss throughout was ringer Bill Butler, not just because, with the departure of Ryan Hester, Butler is now the sole male ringer, but because he was playing the bells previously played by BOTH men. While most of the ladies handled no more than eight bells, Butler covered 13, one whole octave of the five or so the group plays. And these are not the small bells that you can hold two to a hand. These are the BIG bells, ranging over more than 8 feet of real estate. Butler had bells flying left and right (did I mention some hand chimes, too?), and, occasionally, using his other right hand, turning pages as well! It was a concert and cardio/upper body workout all in one.
Not to be outdone, woodwind instrumentalist Erin Talcott played both English horn (rarely heard as a solo instrument) and oboe (though not simultaneously!) as the group played the German carol “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” (“Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming”). (Talcott is a versatile wind musician, having recently played bassoon for Harmony Club in a wind trio for the “Chinese Dance” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Just a two-note basso continuo but a challenge of endurance – she played continuously for 75 seconds or so with hardly a breath, her legs crossed nonchalantly in feigned boredom. Another good workout routine – great for the abs!)
Ann Fitzgerald was featured flute soloist as Bronzissimo! played “Once in Royal David’s City.” The wind instruments complemented the handbells nicely in all their numbers together, though the bells were a bit loud at times against a single solo instrument. Instrumentalists also included organist Donna Halbert and percussionist Thomas St. Ives.
The audience got into the spirit with two sing-alongs and was enthusiastic in their appreciation.
With the demise of Binghamton First Night, Bronzissimo! does just two regular concerts, summer and winter, but, if you’d like a classy musical program for your organization or function, talk to directors Claire Bombard or Jessica Bowerman. And if you’d like a chance to play some really big bells, there’s an opening …