Cameron Wilson
Photo:Vincent Lim

Chor Leoni and La Nef
The Return Voyage

When & Where February 16 at 7:30pm, February 17 at 2 pm & 5 pm | St. Andrew's Wesley United Church

Conductor, Chor Leoni Erick Lichte La Nef led by Seán Dagher

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Chor Leoni and La Nef have created a splendid programme in The Return Voyage, a programme of sea songs and shanties. Like all work songs, sea shanties are immediately engaging with their strong rhythms, repetitive lines and choruses. Sung with verve and pizzaz as they were on Friday evening they are vitalizing, almost asking the audience to actually `Haul on the Bowline’ or pull on the capstan bars to heave up the anchor.. Luckily, there are several chances to belt out the choruses.

Chor Leoni, turned out in shirt-sleeves and scarves, were clearly ready to set sail. Their 60 voices backed the finely tuned smaller ensemble of La Nef, adding layers of resonance and texture. The solo voices, Nils Brown, Clayton Kennedy, Jean-Francois Daignault and Sean Dagher, strong and rich like treacle and rum, or sharp as the clap of wind-smacked sails, led the shanties to new musical heights..

Add to this rather glorious mix the multi-instrumental playing of Sean Dagher with Kate Bevan-Baker, the lone woman and a singer as well as fiddler and drummer, Bill Gossage and David Gossage. Bill Gossage’s indispensable bass, Bevan-Baker’s soaring, dancing fiddle, Dagher’s contrapuntal Irish bouzouki, all contributed their distinctive personalities into the moods and flow of the music, but outstanding were David Gossage’s improvisatory passages which, gull-like, flew above, describing airy patterns over waves of sound.

And what of the songs themselves? The program was laid out to take a sailor’s voyage from setting off from shore with `The Press Gang,’ across the Atlantic to the `Banks of Newfoundland,’ down to the `Rio Grande’ and then `Homeward Bound’ and payday. Meanwhile, shipboard duties, girls met and left, and thoughts of home all have their own verses. The simpler work songs always carry a connotation of strength and capability, but the mass of Chor Leoni voices brought home the enormous size of the merchant ships and the strength and skill needed to sail them.

The shanty was used on board ship to keep the sailors working together efficiently and being a shanty-man was a specific paid job, in other words, a professional singer. It should come as no surprise then that there are some songs of great beauty. `Shallow Brown,” a poignant and mysterious fare-thee-well stands out among several along with `Leave her, Johnny, Leave Her’ which in Dagher’s arrangement is full of pathos.

It is in no small part due to Sean Dagher’s arrangements that this concert worked so well. The choir parts sometimes added depth and strength, and sometimes served as background which moved and rose and fell like the swell of the sea. Varied in tempo and colour, coherent in purpose, each song and the program as a whole was full of interest and a source of pleasure..


© 2024 Elizabeth Paterson