Given the globally
warmed disrupted weather at the close of March - taking its leave like a polar bear - the audience at St. Philip's Anglican Church was encouragingly large. Subtitled "Requiem & Racine" the concert presented an imaginative selection of French choral, vocal and instrumental music from the late 19th and early 20th century, anchored by two of Fauré's most notable works for choirs.
The concert opened with 3 pieces by Camille Saint-Saëns, Tollite Hostias, written in 1858 and subsequently published as part of his Christmas Oratorio, followed by Panis Angelicus and Ave Verum which were supported by a sympathetic organ accompaniment supplied by Susan Ohanessian. The choir then closed the spiritual and devotional set with a performance of Ubi Caritas, the most popular of Duruflé's Four Motets. The Tollite was boldly declarative, well shaped with good attention to phrasing while Panis was delivered with appropriate balance, the conductor placing a curb bit on the tenors who showed signs of becoming too prominent.The Ave unfolded as it should, while Ubi was nicely done (though some details of the Amen were a little fuzzy) making most of the freedom implied by its Gregorian Chant foundation. Attention now concentrated inside the church, the audience applauded warmly.
Susan Ohanessian brought us two Marcel Dupré Antiphons (No III &IV) from "Versets sur les VÍpres de la Vierge." These pieces are based on improvisations, originally performed on the Feast of the Assumption in August 1919, when the organist/composer was standing in for Louis Vierne at Notre-Dame in Paris. Both the mystical "Nigra sum" and "Jam hiems transiit," which are tonal, though often highly chromatic, were very cleanly registered and beautifully played. They constituted a fine follow-on from the Durflé (himself one of the great organists of the 20th century) as they too are based on Gregorian Chant.
Joel Klein, baritone, ably abetted by Elliott Dainow on piano, performed Gabriel Fauré's setting of the Rene-Francois Sully-Prudhomme poem "Les Berceaux" (The Cradles.) The poem speaks of the connection between those who must go to sea and the families left behind. Joel sang with conviction and longing, troubling duty and heart's affirmation unresolved. It fell to Elliott's delicate accompaniment, closing the piece, to imply the latter.
Initially, quiet contemplation was also the spirit behind the next work on the programme with harpist, Esther Cannon playing Alphonse Hasselmans' Reverie, described by its subtitle as a poetic allusion to Goethe's "Mignon." This fabled and inexplicable child character in "The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister" was a little Italian dancer, stolen from her family by circus performers. "She perched on roofs; some days she would not speak and others spoke in riddles; she carried a cutlass and fought with brigands." Esther's playing of the Atlantide Prestige instrument showed that this reverie was shot through with echoes of such sprite-like behaviour; recollections in emphatic tranquility!
The women of the Vivaldi Chamber Choir then assembled at the front of the sanctuary for a performance of Fauré's "Messe Basse" accompanied by Susan Ohannessian. Mary Leigh-Warden did the Soprano Solo honours in fine style. The first half of the proceedings were wrapped with Susan demonstrating what a fine instrument St. Philip's has in its 1961 Casavant Frères organ. This three manual, 32 stop, 2,111 piped affair acquits itself well in music of the French Romantic. It is not a Cavaille-Colle, but in the relatively small room Susan Ohanessian was able to impress with flashing, fiery reeds and plenty of welly low down. The demonstration piece was the Toccata by Eugène Gigout which, from this listener's point of view, out Widor'd Charles-Marie himself - and on that score it probably does not lie under the fingers as easily as the famous Symphony #5 item. Susan gave a flawless performance and was greeted with an enthusiastic response from the audience
After the intermission choir, harp, and organ came together for Fauré's Cantique de Jean Racine. This was his prize-winning piece at École Niedermeyer on graduation at the age of 19. The musicians did justice to this beautiful work and was probably the most successful choral endeavour of the evening thus far. Catherine Laub, soprano sang Claire de Lune, a setting of Paul Verlaine's ode to moonlight by Gabriel Fauré. Catherine's shimmering but impassive vocal line was supported by the quasi-plucked minuet accompaniment of Elliott Dainow's piano. The suddenly enchanted exclamation "Au calme clair de lune, triste et beau...." was a special moment.
All in all a most satisfying 90 minutes of music
Thanks to Susie and Hari for the performance pictures! For more photographs taken at, and around this event, please go to A Vivaldi Choir GalleryView the concert programme
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