CD Reviews: Elora Festival Singers and Latvian choir mix global quality with local content

Elora Festival Singers with semi-recumbent founder, Noel Edison.

I Saw Eternity (Naxos)

A choir is a strange beast, no matter what size it is. On one hand, it needs to function like a single-cell organism, delivering music in perfect synch and in perfect tune. On the other, it is a rainbow collection of of individual personalities, backgrounds and abilities.

The best choirs are an alchemical feat, where the two elements are mixed to produce musical gold.

Elora Festival founder (and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir artistic director) Noel Edison has had 30 years to perfect the formula with the festival’s flagship ensemble, the Elora Festival Singers — some of whose members overlap with Edison’s church choir in Elora and the core of the Mendelssohn Choir in Toronto.

The Elora Festival Singers, a professional, 25-member chamber chorale, can stand alongside the world’s best, as is demonstrated again on this endearing album, issued by Naxos under its Canadian Classics banner. On their latest disc, the choir is impeccably balanced and precise, while also producing a warm, gracefully shaped musical arc in each phrase.

Recorded in the warm acoustic of St. John’s Church in Elora, the album is a collection of Edison’s favourite sacred and contemplative secular pieces. It just so happens that this is 100 per cent Canadian content, some of it commissioned by Edison and the Elora Festival Singers.

The 12 composers each bring a different dimension to the experience. It is music that can be enjoyed as music just as much as stimulus for personal spiritual reflection.

The album opens with a 2009 setting of the Gloria Patri by Timothy Corlis that is equal parts magical incantation and celebration in music.

The oldest work on the disc is a Missa Brevis from 1976 that has become a staple of better choirs across the Anglican communion. Toronto composer Ruth Watson Henderson shows how traditional counterpoint can be mixed into a modern idiom in a gorgeously structured, compact a cappella setting of the ordinary of the Mass.

The sweetest setting, of the Nunc Dimittis, or Song of Simeon, traditionally part of Anglican Evensong, was commissioned from Toronto’s Peter Tiefenbach in 2003. It comes with a simple, atmospheric piano accompaniment elegantly rendered by Leslie De’Ath. (Other accompanists on the album are organist Michael Bloss, cellist John Marshman and clarinettist Stephen Pierre.)

The other commissions are equally successful: Bless the Lord for the Good Land, an affecting anthem from 2000 by Mark Sirett; Timothy Corlis’s To See the Cherry Hung With Snow, from 2007; and an arresting, chilling setting of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence created in 2005 by Craig Galbraith.

Among the pieces programmed from long-established Canadian choral specialists are a colourful setting of Psalm 23 (The Lord is My Shepherd) by Imant Raminsch and “Remember,” one of Stephen Chatman’s Rosetti Songs.

It’s such a pleasure to be able to celebrate fine choral music, gloriously well sung, that also happens to be Canadian.

For all the details on this album, including audio samples, click here.

Missa a cappella (Opening Day)

Northern Europeean choirs are reputed to be the world’s best. The Balsis Youth Choir from Latvia, is an a perfect example of clarity, balance and technique, as led by Ints Teterovskis.

The group has released a new disc that showcases two unaccompanied settings of the Mass written for the choir by Baltic composers.

While the choir sounds fantastic, multiple spins of this CD haven’t done much to endear me to either the Missa Rigensis, by Ugis Praulins, or Vytautas Miskinis’s Missa Brevis. Both pieces, in their own way, are technically clever and tightly constructed, but these settings are more imposing than affecting, sounding as if intended to show off the choir in a concert setting — unlike the music selected by the Elora Festival Singers, which, although each piece is different, tends to follow a straight path to the heart.

For more details, click here.

John Terauds


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