Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review - "Glorious Voices", Indeed

From our friends at Sound and Noise - University of Alberta Students on Music February 28, 2012

The stage was set. The Edmonton Symphony was presenting a concert that featured the stars of tomorrow, four of Edmonton’s best choirs, and the Poulenc Gloria. An organ prelude welcomed the congregation… err uh… audience members to the packed Enmax Hall of the Winspear Centre. The program included two Old Testament settings, one New Testament setting, and several parts of the mass. All was set for what could have been a truly religious experience. Figuratively, was it that good? I am neither spiritual enough nor willing enough to go that far, but the evening was as wonderful as I could possibly describe in my heathen, technology-driven colloquialism.
Bill Eddins, music director of the Edmonton Symphony, said it correctly: a concert that celebrates the importance and influence of religion on music must begin with Bach. After Maestro Eddins played a short prelude, Bach’s solo cantata, Ich armer Mensch, ich S├╝ndenknecht (Bach’s only cantata for solo tenor), was next. Rising Canadian tenor Christopher Mayell was charged with the task of singing this famously difficult cantata. Bach’s often-difficult vocal writing can make the best of us uneasy, but Mayell’s assured beauty of tone and clarity of diction calmed any fears of even the most discerning critic. His performance was engaging from start to finish.

Introducing beautiful but rarely presented repertoire to an audience is never a bad idea, especially when one performs it well. This was certainly the case with the choosing of Mendelssohn’s setting of Psalm 42, a work that even the soloist later admitted she had never heard of. This soloist was Jeanine de Bique, an increasingly busy soprano on the international scene. Jeanine de Bique sang with rich, engaging tone throughout. Not just another bright-toned soprano, she sings with full use of her colourful voice from her highest notes to her lowest ones. She has a “bite” to her sound that recalls the great Kiri Te Kanawa. As the Mendelssohn concluded, I could not wait to hear her in the Poulenc.

Throughout the evening, each of the four choirs (the Cantilon Chamber Choir, the Ukrainian Male Chorus of Edmonton, Da Camera Singers, and i coristi Chamber Choir) had its moment to shine. Whether singing back-up to one of the soloists or presenting a stand-alone choral work with orchestra, each choir added its own flavour to the diversity of the program (including a lovely rendition of Mozart’s famous Ave Verum Corpus by the young members of the Cantilon Chamber Choir). The choirs were strongest when together, however, in the work that I (and most likely the audience) came to hear.

Poulenc’s Gloria has become a staple in the choral-orchestral repertoire. The beautiful melodies and tour-de-force soprano solo catch your attention, but it is the creative orchestration and exciting surprises that keep you hooked. For example, few standard works for mass chorus and orchestra have such exhilarating lines for the brass instruments. Several audience members, on this occasion, practically leapt out of their seats at the crashing of the brass. There is also a never-ending juxtaposition between thrills and absolute calmness. Both Maestro Eddins and Ms. de Bique took full advantage of this, taking the audience through all of the highs and all of the lows. As hinted to earlier, the combined sound of the choirs was fittingly glorious for both the title of the concert and the name of the piece.

Friday night’s concert, “Glorious Voices,” was indeed just that… glorious.

-Mark Wilkinson

http://thesoundandnoise.com/2012/02/28/glorious-voices-indeed/

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