Festival Vancouver 2008

musica intima: Vocal Chamber Ensemble
Friday, 15 August 2008 @ 5.30 pm • Christ Church Cathedral

Reviewer J H Stape

musica intima's well established reputation for performing"challenging" contemporary music was burnished by this highly diverse concert of sacred and secular music in the Choral Connections slot.

Featuring the work of no fewer than ten composers, and texts in English, Latin, Portuguese and Spanish (Festival Vancouver's Americas theme was fully embraced here) this intelligently crafted concert gave this highly polished group an opportunity to do its very best.

The first seven selections concentrated on sacred/spiritual music, with traditional forms both reinvented and reinvigorated. Avoiding the cloying and sentimental, the religious music chosen had deep appeal even to the non- or anti-religious. The purpose built setting was, of course, a plus, and the church-y acoustics perfect in enhancing the atmosphere of hushed awe before the unexplainable (and the unexplained -- vigorous attempts to the contrary).

American composer Eric Whitacre's graceful setting of e. e. cummings' poem "'i thank You God for most this amazing day" opened, the performance focussed and crisp and the diction and communication of the text flawless. (The conventional wisdom that English isn't a singable language is certainly overturned by musica intima.)

Vancouver-based composer Rupert Lang's setting of the Ute Nation text "Earth Teach Me" played with different groupings of sound, but the piece became somewhat repetitious and is slightly overlong.

More successful were the five selections from R. Murray Schafer's Magic Songs, in a language of the composer's making and, typically, about environmental concerns. Several influences were at play in these chants including the Balinese ketjak dance. Howling wolves, humming bees, and running water were imitated, and the work ended with athletic stomping as magic transformed the world.

A group of four more traditionally solemn religious pieces from the central tradition provided another shift in mood and mode: plainsong imbued Venezuelan composer César A. Carillo's"O magnum mysterium"; BC composer Imant Raminsh's hauntingly emotional and thrilling "Ave verum corpus" explored harmonies; "Jesus erbarme dich" by the late Québécois composer Claude Vivier explored the austerities and intensities of the 12-tone scale, and Heitor Villa-Lobos's "Ave Maria," brief and very Hispanic (the text was sung in Portuguese) closed this reflective set.

A group of three love poems brought us back to the world of the here-and-now, with a wistful, delicately shaded performance of Eric Whitacre's "A Boy and a Girl," a setting of a tender and ultimately sad poem by Octavio Paz.

The charming and warm "Juramento" (Oath) by the Cuban composer Matamoros arranged by Electo Silva mixed folk and popular elements with serious ones in a bittersweet love song. And lastly, the gooey-sentimental "Rosa" by the late Brazilian Pixinguinha was offered with panache.

The formal proceedings returned back to religious sentiment with arrangement of "Down to the River," by Lane Price, an intima member, an excursion into Appalachian-style "ole time" religion, charmingly performed as a stylized dance with the choir grouping and re-grouping not only to get the right vocal balance but in response to the text.

The generous encore was "Loch Lomond," which pulled out all the stops of a concerted charm offensive that had long before won over the very large and breathlessly attentive audience.

© 2008 J H Stape