Vancouver Chamber Choir

Litany

At the Orpheum

April 2, 1999

By Ed Farolan

VCC's traditional Good Friday concert featured three religious compositions from Mozart, Allegri, and Part. It was a truly prayerful concert, appropriately commemorating the death of Christ.

Litaniae Lauretanae B.M.V., K.195, an early composition of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), started off the evening, with the VCC and the visiting Suddeutscher Kammerchor, accompanied by the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, and featuring Soprano Lorraine Reinhardt, Alto Fabiana Katz-Eser, Tenor Jonathan , and Bass Vermeulen. Mozart wrote this piece when he was only eighteen, probably for one of the smaller Salzburg churches. There are five movements which opens with the Kyrie; then Sancta Maria, Salus Infirmorum, and Regina Angelorum, the Litany that addresses the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Heaven; and finally, an Agnus Dei at the conclusion.

This piece was played like it should have been played for Good Friday: reverently and prayerfully. However, whether the Orpheum was the right venue for this piece, I really can't tell, but I would have preferred the atmosphere of a Cathedral, for which this piece was written in the first place. There was a lack of resonance on the part of the featured singers, and the choirs were not projecting enough. Perhaps the venue was too huge for this type of a chamber or church music composition.

The second piece was surprisingly interesting. Misere mei, Deus by Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652), a priest and singer in the Pontifical Chapel in the first half of the 17th century, is based on the verses of the bible's Psalm 50 , one of seven penitential psalms, where David humbly prays for forgiveness and cleansing after his transgression with Bathsheba. I found the performance of this piece truly engaging and fascinating because both choirs sang alternately, and one of them, I suspect it was the VCC (it was difficult to distinguish which choir was what), sang offstage. I was reminded of Gregorian chanting because, somehow, the offstage choir had the resonance, that echoing quality of Gregorian music. And I was moved by those high, lingering, angelic notes sung beautifully by Soprano Aldona McLean. And in a dramatic gesture, Conductor Jon Washburn, whose back was to the audience all this time, faced us to conduct both choirs as the spotlight hit him during the finale of this wonderful piece. The setting was solemn as the lights were dimmed all throughout the performance of Allegri's piece.

The final piece, Litany by Arvo Part (b. 1935), was evidently unique and innovative. Part is referred to as "the enigmatic and nearly-reclusive Estonian composer who has almost single-handedly revolutionised the late 20th century musical public's perception of choral music".

Part's Litany is based on the prayers of St. John Chrysostom, a 4th century saint and patriarch of Constantinople, who wrote 24 brief prayers, for each hour of day and night. As I was listening to this piece, I had the sensation in some sections of this piece, that this was Carmina Burana, with the drums and the bells tolling, the rapid transition from highs to lows, and towards the end, an intense and dynamic finale, ending with a surprising "Amen" in the lowest bass I've ever heard before! A truly original and contemporary piece.

VCC's production of Litany was appropriately a concert of prayers to meditate and ruminate on as one awaited the resurrection from the dead of Christ.