March 9, 2004

Vancouver Chamber Choir

Category: Music :: Permalink

Tonight, after supper with James (whose blog I don’t know the link for yet), Alex, and Calvin, I went (with James) to hear the Vancouver Chamber Choir, which is reputed to be the best professional vocal ensemble in Canada.

The concert opened with Buxtehude’s Missa Brevis, a Lutheran mass which was beautifully performed though perhaps somewhat heavy as an opener. It was followed by Brahms’s Shaffe in mir, Gott, a rendition of the first part of Psalm 51, which ended with a delightful and unexpected fugue, signifying (I suspect) the answer to the prayer “und der freudige Geist erhalte mich” (“Let Thy spirit of joy come over me”).

Next, the choir sang Healey Willan’s Behold the Tabernacle of God. Willan was Canada’s first great composer, and much of his work was written for liturgical use. This piece was written in 1934. I had never heard any of Willan’s music before, but I quite enjoyed this piece and so I picked up the Choir’s recording of many of Willan’s works: An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts.

From Canada in the 20th century, the Choir moved to Russia in the 19th and sang Tchaikovsky’s Otche Nash, a beautiful rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. They then returned to Canada for Stephen Chatman’s Two Rossetti Songs, a setting of “Song and Music” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and “Remember” by Christina Rossetti, before closing their first set with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s rather complex Three Shakespeare Songs (“Full Fathom Five,” “The Cloud-Capp’d Towers,” and “Over Hill, Over Dale”).

After the intermission, the Choir started its second set with four Nordic songs: Hugo Alfven’s Aftonen, Matti Hyekki’s On suri sun rantas’ autius (what an odd and interesting and very un-Germanic language Finnish is!), HafliÄ‘i Hallgrimsson’s Nú vil ég enn í nafni ţínu, and Niels Gade’s Morgensang. I enjoyed all four. But the next two songs I didn’t care for. R. Murray Schafer’s Felix’s Girls was a loose collection of short songs based on poems by Henry Felix, a Polish-Jewish poet. It was stylistically challenging, but both the content and the music left me cold. Eric Whitacre’s Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine was better, but shared what seems to be the shapelessness of much modern “classical” music.

With Jon Washburn’s Balm in Gilead, the Choir returned to more accessible material. Washburn is the Choir’s director. This piece was based on a traditional spiritual, and it was fairly enjoyable, though (to my ear) a bit meandering. I would have preferred it to have more punch (as the second stanza’s baritone solo did). The concert ended with Bob Chilcott’s The Runner, a fairly engaging piece based on a Walt Whitman poem. For the encore, the Choir sang a Cuban song, whose title and composer weren’t mentioned.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening, though I much preferred the first half of the program to the second.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:50 am | Discuss (0)

Leave a Reply