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Toronto Consort brings 16th and 17th century Christmas music from Latin America and Spain to life and then some!​

The Toronto Consort turned their Christmas concert into a Latin American fiesta last night at the Jeanne Lamon Hall in the Trinity-St. Paul Centre. This was the first of three performances of their program entitled Navidad, the Spanish word for Christmas. For this concert, Toronto’s early music specialists set aside the music of the royal courts of Renaissance and Baroque Europe for an evening of the up-tempo music of the people of the Spanish colonies in Central and South America. The music had the audience clapping along with the rhythmic singing and playing.

As Alison Melville described in her pre-concert chat, the meeting of the Spanish with the Incas, Aztecs and other indigenous groups in the “new” world presented the Catholic church with an opportunity to proselytize during the time of the counter-reformation going on in Europe. By mixing the music of Spain with indigenous languages and African rhythms brought over by slaves of the Spanish, Christmas soon became an extended period of celebration with pageantry, songs and dance.

Artistic Director David Fallis added five musicians to his normal group. The six singers and seven instrumentalists presented wonderfully varied sounds. From the opening beat of the large drum that announced the processional of musicians from the back of the hall, the music was infectious. Drums, maracas, tambourines, rattles, jingles and bird whistles complemented the authentic sounds of a churango, baroque guitar, lute, baroque harp, bajón, recorder and organ. The singers, who had the challenging task of singing in several indigenous languages along with Spanish, were more than up to the task. They sang with clarity, fine intonation, and energy.

David Fallis, John Pepper, Katherine Hill, Michele De Boer, Vicki St. Pierre, Paul Jenkins, and Ben Grossman 

Ben Grossman, Rodrigo Chavez, Terry McKenaa, Lucas Harris, Julia Seager-Scott,
​and  Domizic Teresi

The well-known 16th century song Riu, riu, Chiu was a favourite with the audience. For me, the five part a capella Virgen sancta by Francisco Guerrero had a special beauty. The final piece, Ay andar, andar was especially entertaining. Each singer and musician took a turn with a solo verse in this song that calls everyone to sing, play and dance.

This was a concert that anyone with a love of toe-tapping music would enjoy. The program will be repeated tonight December 9th at 8pm and tomorrow December 10th at 3pm in Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul's Centre

In several of the villancicos (i.e. peasant songs), sopranos Michele DeBoer and Katherine Hill lead the call and response pattern. In other villancicos, each singer in turn took the leading role with the others joining in on refrains. Mezzo-soprano guest Vicki St. Pierre added an earthy vitality to the group of regulars that included tenors David Fallis and Terry McKenna, and bass John Pepper. Instrumental numbers gave each of the instruments solo opportunities. Recorder specialist Alison Melville gave a virtuosic performance in a duet with percussionist Ben Grossman. The Argentinian guitarist and percussionist, Rodrigo Chavez, added colour and excitement to the music with an infectious complex rhythmic drive. I have never heard maracas played with such skill and energy. His authentic bird whistles in the tenor duet Canen dos Jilguerillos added authenticity to the song about the two little goldfinches lulling the baby Jesus to sleep. 

The Toronto  Consort  and guest musicians

Review by David Richards

​Toronto ON December 9th 2017