HARVEST: Songs of Thanksgiving

Venue: Chan Centre for the Performing Arts Date: 18 October, 2003

Reviewer: John Jane

When Bing Thom architects designed the Chan Shun Concert Hall in 1997, they may well have used a choral concert like this as their acoustic model. The acoustics in this hall are so accurate that one can even hear the accompanist flipping the sheets of music at the piano.

The twenty-member choir and choirmaster appeared on stage, to welcoming applause, all bedecked in formal evening attire, with the ladies looking particularly elegant, dressed in identical black three-piece outfits designed by Jennifer Chew.

Jon Washburn led the choir in a programme of secular chorale music with the central themes of peace and thanksgiving. The evening got under way with a recent work by David Asplin, For the Healing of the Nations, a five movement cantata with English text that conveyed a strong anti-war sentiment and garnered from such varied sources as the bible, the Qur’an and the Iroquois Constitution. Asplin himself was in the audience to hear his work performed and received warm applause when acknowledged by Maestro Washburn.

Next was a pair of short songs composed by Vancouverite Stephen Chatman, who also attended the concert to see his work performed. Chatman’s music perfectly fitted poems written by brother and sister, Gabriel and Christina Rossetti.

Featured accompanist, Linda Lee Thomas, joined the choir for a selection of joyful traditional songs arranged by famed American composer, the late Aaron Copland. The first of these was Simple Gifts often heard as part of Copland’s larger work Appalachian Spring and beautifully rendered by the choir.

Following the intermission, we heard Ralph Vaughan Williams' Song of Thanksgiving, written in 1945 to celebrate the end of World War II. The performance featured a simultaneous narrative supplied by Paul Nash and a solo by soprano, Joanna Dundas. Ms Dundas has developed into a fine soprano with a bright, clear voice, making her a delight to listen to. This is a robust and resounding piece, qualities that were enhanced by the excellent acoustics in the Concert Hall.

The Choir then left the stage, to return moments later with Focus!, a development choir, comprising of students from Lower Mainland colleges. The ensemble performed the last two works in the programme, Washburn’s own arrangement of Balm in Gilead and an excerpt from Copland’s rural opera, The Tender Land.

In performing The Tender Land, the Chamber Choir and Focus! were provided with dual piano accompaniment by Linda Lee Thomas and Terence Dawson. This work was one of only two operas composed by Copland, concerning a girl who is transformed into a young woman as a result of her first experience of love. The music is similar in character to Copland’s landmark suite Appalachian Spring - richly melodic and kind of folksy - a little surprising for someone born in Brooklyn, New York. Focus! is a first-rate ensemble, and they blended well with the Chamber Choir. Once again, Washburn did a great job in balancing the various elements.

Without a doubt, the audience at Saturday's concert was treated to a delightful programme, played by a fine local choir.

© 2003, John Jane