Vancouver Chamber Choir

Unexpected Gifts: Songs from the Heart

Date and Venue 11 April 2008 @ 8pm; 13 April @ 3pm | Ryerson United Church, 2195 West 45th Avenue at Yew, Vancouver

Reviewer Ed Farolan

The Vancouver Chamber Choir brought its Ontario/Manitoba tour programme of a cappella gems to Ryerson Church, delving into the mainstream of the vast repertory of choral music from the Baroque, Romantic, and Modern eras, along with folksongs, lullabies, and selections from the Choir's hit recording Finding the Still Point.

In the programme, Bach, Buxtehude, Bruckner, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninov, Schumann, Grieg, Raminsh, Duruflé, and other composers, from the Baroque to the present, were featured. Four Canadian composers, Larry Nickel, Richard Eaton, Edward Henderson, and R. Murray Schafer were also represented. Unexpected Gifts, a CD sequel to Finding the Still Point, was also launched to help the healing process of children with cancer.

In the first part, the Baroque liturgical music of Dietrick Buxtehude ("Missa brevis") and Johann Sebastian Bach's "Bist du bei mir" was angelically sung by the choir. Following this, songs from the Romantic Period with Johannes Brahms' spiritual "Schlaffe in mir, Gott," Mendelssohn's forlorn "Die Nachtigall," and Anton Bruckner's "Locus iste" were delivered flawlessly by this elite group.

A surprising number was Sergei Rachmaninov's "Bogoroditse Devo," an early spiritual work and a far cry from his classic Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 (colloquially known as "Rach 3") famous for its technical and musical demands. I didn't expect this egotistical Russian composer to write a harmonic hymn to the Virgin Mary.

A song I recognized was the classic "Shenandoah," popularized by the movie of the same title starring James Stewart (1965), and it was nostalgically sung by the choir. Another piece which was included in the repertoire was avant garde composer R. Murray Schafer's "Alleluia," a unique piece in that only "alleluia" was sung over and over in different tones, and in different styles. In one instance, you'd think the choir was laughing out the words as they went "al, al, al, al, al, al" in staccato a capella.

The last piece, which wasn't on the programme, was a Lithuanian drinking song, where three members of the female choir would sing and act out the drunken song, alternating it with a solo from one of the "drunk" bass signers. The audience enjoyed this piece wholeheartedly.

Washburn, after this song, dismissed the matinee audience a little after five in the afternoon to say it was time for a nap.

© 2008 Ed Farolan