Vancouver Cantata Singers

Our Times

Eric Hannan, director, Rupert Lang and the Vancouver Children's Choir

Benjamin Britten 1913- 1976: Chorale after an old French hymn Bruce Sled b.1975: Shattered Islands Henry Purcell: Sound the trumpet Nancy Telfer: Sanctus Sursum Coda Rupert Lang: Pilgrim Song Trad. Gospel arr Barbara Baker: The Storm Is Passing Over William Albright 1944-1998: Chichester Mass James MacMillan b 1959: The Gallant Weaver Calvin Hampton 1938- 1984: O Lord support us Leonard Bernstein 1918-1990: Chichester Psalms

Venue: West Vancouver United Church
Dates: February 22 - 23 2003

Reviewer: Lois Carter

In tonight's concert under the direction of Eric Hannan, the Vancouver Cantata Singers certainly lived up to their reputation of being the award winning ensemble they are today. Together with the Vancouver Children's Choir directed by Rupert Lang they presented a repertoire that was inspiring both spiritually and musically.

After World War I, poetry shifted from traditional forms to experiment in rhythm, imagery, symbolism and illusion. WH Auden was one such poet who viewed mankind through "clearer eyes" and nevertheless held an optimistic view. World War II had an even more profound effect on man's ideas about himself.

Britten's 'Chorale after an old French Hymn', ties together the text by Auden with a richness in musical harmony and expression that is so much a mark of Britten's genius. The Cantata singers opened with a well disciplined and well blended performance although I would have been lost without the text printed in full on the program.

In contrast, 'Shattered Island' by Bruce Sled , (especially commissioned), created imagery, tonal sound and waves of colour perfectly matched with clear diction throughout. This in turn gave way to more vocal energy, and I was impressed by the unobtrusive direction by Eric Hannan, a very sensitive and purposeful conductor.

Bruce Sled is a young talented Canadian composer whose career will be worth following.

The Vancouver Children's Choir, celebrating their 20th anniversary, opened with a note of pure celebration with 'Sound the Trumpet' followed by the confident and well tuned 'Sanctus' and 'Sursam Corda'.

Rupert Lang's especially commissioned 'Pilgrim's Song' based on 'Ave Maria'showed his expertise as a Cathedral choral director with beautifully shaved phrases. Although inspired by guess work, he introduced rhythm in a most unusual way, setting the scene for a traditional Gospel number. The young singers showed immense versatility of style as it is extremely difficult for Caucasians to create a convincing 'black' sound. But they did a great job.

The opening of Albright's 'Chichester Mass' was disappointing. To avoid the ubiquitous wobble, I can understand why directors generally like a straight tone from women sopranos. Its effect, however, leaves a shrill edge in the upper register which is not the case with choir boys. Improving vocal technique can overcome this to create warmer overtones. Having said that, the chant-like 'Gloria', the gentle dissonance, the musical ebb and flow in the 'Sanctus' and the gorgeous jazz feel in the 'Agnus Dei' compensated for my initial reservations.

The beautiful Celtic 'Gallant Weaver' set the scene after the intermission. James Macmillan's interest in the spiritual dimension is clear. To a text by Robert Burns, we were suspended in sound throughout, culminating in a sustained pianissimo. Magnificent.

Calvin Hampton's ' O Lord Support Us' made use of an underlying tape including sounds of tubular bells, glockenspiel and vibraphone. It created a fresh colour of sound and was a fascinating musical idea. I would like to hear it again.

'Chichester Psalms' by Bernstein was a marvelous choice to finish what was a delightful evening. Sung in Hebrew and full of rhythmic syncopation provided by piano and percussion, combined with exquisite harp accompaniment, it was enthusiastically received by the audience.

The concert was well attended and the acoustics in the church served to enhance a wonderful evening. The Program was repeated at West Vancouver United church on the "3rd of February.

© 2003, Lois Carter