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The Elora Festival Singers with Jim Bourne (continuo),
Christopher Sharpe (cello), and Noel Edison (conductor)
Photo Credit: David Richards
Elora Festival Singers offer up transcendent choral works!
Conductor Noel Edison
Photo Credit: Greg Fess Photography
The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir is celebrating Noel Edison’s 20th anniversary season. Edison, its current Artistic Director, is only the choir’s seventh conductor in a line of distinguished leaders since its founding in 1894. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir has been fortunate over the years in finding eminent conductors who have each had long tenures. It was fitting that the Elora Festival Singers, the professional core of the TMC kick off the year’s festivities with its own program.
Yesterday, at Holy Trinity Church, next to the Eaton Centre and close to the noise and hubbub of marathoners completing their races at nearby Nathan Phillips Square, the ‘Singers’ presented a meditative programme of choral masterpieces.
Edison’s genius as Artistic Director lies not only in preparing his choir to an exceptional level of performance. He consistently finds music spanning five centuries that fits into a coherent package. Yesterday was no exception; each work was exquisite on its own, but the combination added up to a mystical experience.
Beginning with Palestrina’s Missa: Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La the music soared in the ambient acoustics of the church. The six-part a capella mass offered plenty of exposed moments for each section of the twenty-member ensemble. It maintained a magnificent blend of voices in beautiful Italian Renaissance style throughout.
Canadian composer Jocelyn Morlock’s Exaudi for six-part choir and cello came next. Beginning with the religious chant “Hear my prayer”, the work transforms into a plaintive cry as the solo cello sings out in the upper registers of the instrument. Cellist Christopher Sharpe created both the right balance and the fear of death expressed in the music. In the climactic moments the glorious choral forces fill the church.
The second half of the programme featured four additional contemporary works by British composer John Tavener and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. These were followed by the famous motet Lobet den Herrn BWV 230 by J.S. Bach.
For me the highlights of the program were Taverner’s settings of William Blake’s famous poems from his Songs of Innocence and Experience. The sensuousness of The Lamb was immediately offset by the striking contrast of the ferociousness of The Tiger. These two works depict the complexity of God, the Creator. Pärt’s The Woman with the Alabaster Box and The Deer’s Cry were both thought provoking and musically satisfying in keeping with the meditative spirit of the afternoon.
J.S. Bach’s joyful Lobet den Herrn was a glorious finale. This difficult contrapuntal score with its conclusion of “Alleluia” transformed the meditative programme into one of jubilation and triumph for all: the Elora Festival Singers, its esteemed conductor Noel Edison, and the audience.
The full Toronto Mendelssohn Choir will next perform at Koerner Hall on Saturday November 5th in a performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Op. 70. This twentieth anniversary season for Edison will include twelve different artistic programs including the subscription season concerts and guest performances with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and others.
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON October 17th 2016