“Deck the Halls” was an appropriate title for the musical program presented at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas on Tuesday evening. The presenters were the Hall Ensemble, a chamber group that recently made the BRIT lobby its new performance space.
“Deck the Halls” also has holiday implications, of course, and the program took note of that with a Christmas theme that took into account new music as well as old, and in which even the old appeared in new guise.
The regular members of the group — violinist Jennifer Chang, violist Aleksandra Holowka, cellist Karen Hall and bassoonist Kevin Hall — were joined for this occasion by two guests: flutist Ruth Ann Ritchie and harpist Jill Levy.
This combination of instruments is unusual, to put it mildly, so this necessitates the use of arrangements. Kevin Hall, a skilled transferer of music from old forms into new, usually takes that duty.
The piece that appealed to me most was a trio employing Ritchie, Chang and Levy from Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ. This was a lovely excerpt from an oratorio that is mostly gentle, understated and beautiful. Why its performances are rare is a mystery; it would make a nice break from Handel’s Messiah now and then.
The remainder of the program was highly varied except in regard to the Christmas theme.
The new was represented by a pleasant work: “The Shepherd’s Dance” from The Winter’s Tale by Daniel Black, assistant conductor of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. The old was another attractive piece, Symphonie Noël by Michel Corrette, who lived from 1709 to 1795.
There was no lack of familiar music, though some of it took unusual forms. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, O Little Town of Bethlehem and The First Noel were in this group. Not to be ignored was The Nutcracker, although the dances “Mirliton” and “Waltz of the Flowers” appeared in arrangements that must be rare.
One of the pleasant aspects of Hall Ensemble programs is their informality and the opportunity for the audience to mingle with the players. Tuesday night’s program even included a little lesson in music theory (about major, minor and Dorian modes, with examples) and a brief question-and-answer session with Levy imparting information about the harp.