Elora Festival Singers give version special flavour
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
by Stephen Preece for the Record
Of the many performances of Messiah on offer during this Christmas season, the Elora Festival Singers’ version, performed Sunday afternoon at St. Mary’s Church in Elora, is special. Unlike most of the choirs that hire professional musicians to perform the solo works of the piece, the group has enough depth in its chorister ranks to cover these off with the home team. The various personalities and talents give their take a feeling of spice and variety.
The orchestra—consisting of a spare string quartet plus bass, four winds, timpani and organ—started with a brisk and up Overture launching the work at a good clip with edge and sizzle. Under Noel Edison’s baton, the feel had some push as well as a crisp sense of proper baroque accent and rhythm.
The choir’s first entry, And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, eased into the work with a gentle female unison, only to quickly ramp up into the full ensemble, swelling the 25 voices to fill the expansive sanctuary.
As one of Canada’s handful of elite professional choirs, the singers gave this outing their trademark feeling of zest and bravado, making even the most intricate of lines seem easy.
While the soloists were too numerous to name all, some of the highlights are worth mentioning. Paul Ziadé started on tenor with the enormously difficult out-the-gate Comfort ye and Ev’ry valley, with a calm feeling of confident expression. His voice had a smooth and sculpted essence, polished with a directed energy and emotion.
Jordan Scholl presented the first bass offering, Thus saith the Lord, with an animated feeling of expression and dramatic flare. His multi-syllabic warning “I will sha-a-a-ake” boomed throughout the room with a wonderfully ominous warning.
The choir was in full swing by the time they hit Glory to God in the highest, masterfully navigating the full ensemble writing. Throughout the evening the group performed with a compelling sense of disciplined phrasing, punctuation and articulation. Particularly fine was their sensitive attention to dynamics, a feature which sets them apart from the rest. As an example, with the Hallelujah Chorus finishing Part 2, there is a strong temptation to burst out with all guns blazing from the start. This group eased into the first phrases with a sensitive mezzo piano, easing in and then building into a glorious fortissimo.
One of the fine pleasures of the afternoon was listening to soprano Sheila Dietrich, a longtime choir veteran sing Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion. Despite a touch-too-fast tempo, the soprano sang this wonderful work with aplomb and a lovely air of grace and beauty. Her voice was round and broad, while also being precise, spirited and sweetly supple.
Similarly lovely was soprano Lesley Bouza in her sweetly confident I know that my Redeemer liveth. Here she nourished the notes with a buoyant feeling of sunshine and natural delight. Gracing the work with some of her own ornaments and phrases, there was a distilled feeling of joy in the singing that was infectious and inspiring.
Tenor Steve Surian lit into his recitative He that dwelleth in heaven with particular gusto, gripping the words with his muscularly expressive voice—“thou shalt dash them in pieces.”
With some tasteful edits, including ignored repeats and some fast tempi, the overall oratorio clocked in at under two hours (not including intermission), giving this version a crisp feeling of vitality and punch. The final chorus Worthy is the Lamb and Amen had a full dose of dramatic heft, propelling the audience to its feet and out the door with a smile on their faces.