Venue: Ryerson United Church Date: 19 March 2004, 8.00pm

Reviewer: John Jane






Conductors: Lydia Adams & Jon Washburn

Elmer Iseler

Consortium is originally a Latin word, meaning partnership. And last Friday, (March 19) the Vancouver Chamber Choir and the Elmer Iseler Singers, led by their conductor Lydia Adams, were brought together in a harmonious partnership for a first-class programme of both sacred and secular music. All songs were sung in the original language, that included German, English, Latin, Mandarin, Japanese and Russian.

Named after their distinguished founder and original conductor, the late Elmer Iseler, the Toronto based group are similar to our own Vancouver Chamber Choir in size and repertoire.

The evening started with the two choirs 'in consortium' under Maestra Adams' direction with a joyous rendering of Johannes Brahms’ collection of three motets. Considering that the singers only had the benefit of one rehearsal, the two choirs blended extremely well.

With forty singers crowded on the ‘stage’ area, the normally suitable venue appeared too small for both performers and audience. While this beautiful old church, with its high wooden ceiling offers an ideal setting for such a selection of choral works, I couldn’t help but think that the occasion and the 'full house' of enthusiastic supporters deserved a venue like the Chan Centre.

For the balance of the first half, the Toronto choir performed alone with pieces that included Peter Togni’s Ave Verum Corpus, a beautiful hymn sung in Latin, and a motet entitled, Jesus Have Mercy, which featured a soaring solo by lead soprano, Kimberley Briggs.





Perhaps the most unique performance of the evening was the ‘Singers’ interpretation of The Mic-Mac Honour Song a homage to ‘the Creator’. Six female singers remained at the front, while the rest of the choir dispersed around the church emitting authentic ‘bird-calls’.

It was only the Vancouver choir that returned for the second half with Murray Schafer’s A Garden of Bells - a work performed countless times by the Choir since its commissioning. Regular recital attendees may have remembered the choir’s recent performance of this work in September 2002. In his colourful introduction, Maestro Washburn promised an aural landscape. What the choir delivered was vocal campanology, with the singers using their voices to simulate the sound of bells.

Next was the first official performance of Washburn’s own arrangement of Sakura, (Cherry Blossom) a traditional Japanese song, followed by a pair of delightful Chinese Melodies, sung in Mandarin. These were specially written for the Choir’s 1987 tour of China.

The concert concluded with the Vancouver Chamber Choir and Elmer Iseler Singers once again joining in their rendition of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s mellifluous Choruses from All Night Vigil. Also known as the Vespers or Evensong, Rachmaninoff turned to the tradition of Russian Orthodox liturgy for inspiration for this distinctive work. Because of the amount of Russian ritual text, the Vespers is not easy to sing, but the Choirs acquitted themselves well and delivered the difficult text with assuredness.

For me, the jewel of this evening’s concert was the trilogy of traditional spirituals that featured piano accompaniment by Calgarian Robert Kortgaard, heard just before the break. I particularly enjoyed the moving Rita Greene composition, All My Trials, that was popularized in the sixties by Harry Belafonte and Joan Baez.

© 2004, John Jane