The choir was, in fact, two choirs. The first half of the program featured the Mendelssohn Singers (an ensemble of professional quality, with the Elora Festival Singers at its core), discreetly placed in the choir loft at the back of the church. And the second half was sung by the larger TMC, in full view at the front of the church. Both halves featured a-cappella repertoire that occasionally stretched but never exceeded the substantial abilities of these choirs.
The concert opened with Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere mei, Deus -- the piece that will forever be associated with the brilliance (and cheekiness) of Mozart, who, at the age of fourteen, wrote it down from memory after just one hearing. With the Miserere, Edison established an aesthetic tone that would govern most of the program: a precise and spacious treatment, notable for perfect intonation and for its restrained approach to tempo and dynamics. I don’t know who the unnamed stratospheric soprano was whose voice soared above all others, but her contribution was impressive.
Much the same interpretive approach was taken by Edison in Arvo Pärt’s The Deer’s Cry – a curious Irish prayer to ward off evil. The short work’s dynamic arc was carefully controlled, with just a touch of drama at the climax. And in The Reproaches, by the English 20th-century composer John Derek Sanders, the composer’s exotic harmonies were fearlessly embraced by Edison and his choir.
Up at the front of the church, the larger choir was directed, in two works, by the TMC’s associate conductor, Jennifer Min-Young Lee. Her approach to conducting seemed not quite as fluid as Edison’s – but she and her singers made solid work of Antonio Lotti’s Crucifixus for Eight Voices and John Cameron’s reworking of Elgar’s famous “Nimrod” as Lux Aeterna.
Edison took the podium for the rest of the program, beginning with two contrasting Nunc Dimittis settings, by Mendelssohn and the contemporary Polish composer Pawel Lukaszewski. In the Mendelssohn, Edison coaxed a gentle, lyrical romanticism from his choir. There was also a lushness to the Lukaszewski (in contrast to the asceticism of some of the other contemporary works heard), and some striking dynamic contrasts.
Canadian composer Sarah Quartel’s two-movement Sanctum was an effective showpiece for the TMC’s high voices. And Healey Willan’s How They So Softly Rest featured some rich, warm, singing from the lower sections.
With How They So Softly Rest and Willan’s An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts, Edison called upon a reserve of vocal power that had only been lightly touched earlier in the evening. The TMC responded with fervent and intense performances, bringing the program to a glorious close.
© Colin Eatock 2017