Review: Vienna Boys Choir charming, superb in Allentown

Vienna Boys Choir
The Morning Call

By Steve Siegel

The venerable Vienna Boys Choir, which traces its roots back to 1498, sent 23 of its finest emissaries to Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown Friday evening for a charming program of beloved Christmas tunes, from medieval chant and folk songs to pop holiday favorites.

The singers, none older than 14, stood in two groups, surrounding choirmaster/piano accompanist Oliver Stech in a sea of spiffy sailor uniforms and rosy cheeks. The group sailed smoothly through a mostly chronological roster of Christmas material, both sacred and secular, in a cross-genre mix of choral and solo pieces from around the world. The journey began with hymns by Couperin and Monteverdi, and ended with modern fare such as Jule Styne's "Let it Snow" and Johnny Marks' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

To ears more accustomed in hearing the ethereal weightlessness of an American or English boys' choir, the sound of the Vienna Boys Choir is a revelation. There is a purity of tone, to be sure, but it all comes at you very directly, in a bright, vibrato-less stream. Overall the balance between the voices and piano was superb, with only an occasional uncertainty in pitch or vagueness in entrance.

The selections from Benjamin Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols" were especially heartfelt, with some lovely solos. A real crowd-pleaser was "Hail Holy Queen" from the popular film "Sister Act," first sung in the traditional manner before shifting into a gospel and rock-and-roll-infused performance, complete with hand-clapping and audience participation.
There was a certain charm in hearing the English lyrics in many of the numbers spiced up with the European elegance of a German accent. Most endearing of all was just watching these kids perform. Despite their purity of tone and natty uniforms, there was just enough fidgeting and eye-shifting going on to remind us that these are regular boys probably anxious for a pickup game of soccer or baseball after the show.