Luminous Voices clearly enjoy time in Mendelssohn’s World
Kenneth Delong for The Calgary Herald
June 9, 2014
With several concerts under its belt, Luminous Voices, Calgary’s professional chamber choir, is now a fixture on the Calgary concert scene. Its concerts have been drawing increasingly larger (and always enthusiastic) audiences, and it has now settled into a typical three-concert season.
This season’s closing event was entitled Mendelssohn’s World, a program that featured the composer’s rarely performed, youthful Te Deum, as well as other music that was part of Mendelssohn’s musical landscape. As on previous occasions, the concert was artistically deeply satisfying.
It is impossible not be impressed with the sheer vocal horsepower of the ensemble as a whole. Not only is the choir able to produce a powerful, resonant sound with only 24 voices, it has a depth of vocal talent that permits many of the choristers to be heard a fine soloists. As individual sections, the tenors and sopranos can manage the most difficult parts without evident strain, and the basses don’t disappear when the notes reach below the staff. Rich, warm-toned altos round out a choir of impressive vocal capacity.
Considering the difficulty of the music sung, it was a good thing that the choir has this degree of vocal depth. The opening work on the concert was Handel’s well-known Zadok the Priest, which was given a spacious, vocally taut performance, with a fine accompaniment by Neil Cockburn at the organ.
Bach, the composer most influential on the young Mendelssohn, was represented on the program with the motet Singet dem Herrn, one of the most difficult of the Bach motets, involving much divided writing and highly complex individual lines. The richness of this music was amply displayed in this vivid performance, marked with exceptional rhythmic control.
As a lighter moment in a program filled with music of complexity, the choir offered two of Schubert’s many choral pieces, one for women’s voices, the other for a mezzo-soprano soloist and men’s choir. Both were sensitively performed, with an excellent soloist in Patricia Thompson and idiomatic accompaniments by Cheryl Emery.
The major work on the concert was the multi-part Te Deum of Mendelssohn, composed when he was 17. Together with the famous Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, composed about the same time, the Te Deum is a major work of the young Mendelssohn, who would go on to compose some of the most beloved choral music of his time.
The piece fully shows its debt to Baroque traditions, especially Handel, and also contains extended passages for multiple soloists, all of whom were drawn from the choir itself. It was in these solos that one could get the sense of just how good the individual singers are, all the soloists distinguishing themselves. However, special mention should be made of Katie Partridge’s radiant, pure soprano and the sensitive, musical singing of baritone Roderick Bryce. Neil Cockburn provided discreet support from the organ, as well as a touch of musical colour.
As with the other works, the choral singing was exemplary, the singers evidently enjoying the beautiful lines they were given to sing. Conductor Timothy Shantz led the choir with both energy and grace, drawing from the ensemble sounds that were refined, balanced, and filled with inner life. An exquisite account of Mendelssohn’s 8-part setting of Psalm 91 was the perfect encore for this well-performed program. There is a rich trove of choral Mendelssohn still to be heard by Calgary audiences, and Luminous Voices is just the ensemble to fill this void.