Concerts: October 2001

Choirs of the West

Venue: The Chan Centre, U.B.C

Date(s): 19 October, 2001

Reviewer: Jane Penistan

What a treat for lovers of a capella singing to hear these two exceptional choirs perform in the superb acoustics of the Chan Centre.

The two choirs, under the baton of Jon Washburn, opened the programme with Bach's Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, BWV226. The exquisite tone and the precision of the fugal passages set the standard for the rest of the concert. Following these familiar motets was a less well-known composition by Pablo Casals, O vos omnes. The sheer beauty of this piece brought tears to the eyes.

Choral Arts Northwest under conductor Richard Sparks, then sang Brahms' Warum ist das Licht gegeben. Here the heavier romantic style was realized in this solemn and funerary setting which resolves into an assured and certain culmination. In contrast, the English sixteenth century text in an early twentieth century composition, Faire is the Heaven by William Harris, is an antiphonal work typical of much church choir music. The solemnity is modified, but the reverence remains.

Hymn to the Creator of Light by John Rutter, began with a soft and reverent opening rising through a long and delicately managed crescendo to a ringing final phrase in the first motet. A quieter and more contemplative second movement giving praise and thanks for the achievements of the arts followed. In the last movement, a prayer of thanksgiving, the basses singing of this magnificent motet was awe-inspiring.

A presentation was made to Jon Washburn in honour of his recent appointment to the Order of Canada. The Vancouver Chamber Choir and its conductor then gave the great pleasure of performing Purcell's lovely Hear My Prayer and Bob Chilcott's composition, My Prayer based on the Purcell motet, commissioned and sung by the choir for Festival Vancouver 2001. The soloists were Siri Olesen and Katherine Goheen, sopranos.

The ringing tones of R. Murray Schafer's Alleluia followed. The excitement began with the lower voices humming while the higher voices sang "alleluia", gradually moving in to answering and echoing passages of "alleluia" resolving into a glorious, triumphant finale.

Reincarnations, comprises three poems from the late 18th century Irish poet, Blind Raftery, reworked by the 20th century's James Stephens and set by the American composer Samuel Barber. The first poem is in praise of a beautiful colleen, Mary Hynes; the second a lament for a martyr hanged for shooting a man; and the third a tender love ballad. A haunting strain of melancholy and mysticism runs through all three, which were sung with restrained sensitivity.

Choral Arts Northwest rejoined the Vancouver Chamber Choir for the evening's final offering conducted by Richard Sparks. Requiem, was composed by Herbert Howells in 1936, but not released for performance until shortly before his death in 1983. The texts, taken from the Psalms and Christian burial services, are scored for mixed voices with brief soprano, tenor and baritone solos sung by Linda Strandberg and Sarah Markovits, sopranos; Kari Frost, alto; Gavin Pyle and Bob McCaffery-Lent,tenors and Benjamin Harris, baritone. This serious work with its expression of faith was performed with deep reverence and ended the evening with the promise of eternal light and unbroken heavenly peace. A comforting assurance at this present time.

2001, Jane Penistan


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