Vancouver Chamber Choir

MAYSONG: A Celebration of Spring

Conducted by Jon Washburn

Ryerson United Church

Vancouver, BC

12 May 2000


By June Heywood

Jon Washburn, the Vancouver Chamber Choir, and guest pianist, Stephen Smith, have triumphed again.

“Maysong: A Celebration of Spring” was a program of petal soft diversity. The performance opened with the choir singing “The Sprig of Thyme”, John Rutter’s arrangement of eleven British folksongs. What might have been dull was enlivened by songs sung only by the women, and only by the men, both a capella, and with the piano. On one or two of the songs, the tempo could have been livelier and the annunciation could have been crispier.

As usual with Jon Washburn, the second half of the program was a delectable treat, a feast for the ears. The first piece, “Night Water”, adapted by Eric Whitacre from a poem by Octavio Paz (translated from Spanish by Muriel Rukeyser) is a love poem of incredible beauty. The discordant and a capella parts were magnificently performed and the final phraseology with notes held effortlessly, was sublime.

Rachmaninov’s “Vocalise” (“a textless vocal exercise sung to one or more vowels”) provided Stephen Smith with the opportunity to express his virtuosity and provided the singers with the opportunity to showcase their sumptuous vocal range.

“Figures de Danse” by Quebec’s Lionel Dennais is a “collection of serio-comic tales of dancers and other performers”. Sung in French, these vocal cartoons with a dash of Degas are filled with innuendo and naughty bits that raised laughter.

The final arrangement, “Singing by Numbers”, composed by Bob Chilcott, is a suite of songs spanning over 2000 years. The piece was designed “to be fun, easy to perform, and to include as many different scorings as possible within its short duration”. All seven songs seem light even though one is a World War I poem by Siegfried Sassoon describing a lull between battles.

The Vancouver Chamber Choir present consistently fine performances that are as fresh as a breath of spring.

Three points need to be raised which slightly marred the evening: The ringing of a teen’s cell phone during the performance exposed her lack of etiquette; inadequate parking necessitates a long walk for late-comers; and the CD cover stated my guest would enjoy the choir’s latest musical offering, “Once on a Windy Night”. The disc contained beautiful music but not the vocal treats promised by the Vancouver Chamber Choir.