Monday, December 19, 2022

Vancouver Cantata Singers - Christmas Reprise 2022

The Vancouver Cantata Singers’ Christmas Reprise is always the highlight of the Season of Advent. This year, the choir’s 19th offering of this wonderful tradition, was for me, a real highpoint in the years I have been attending these concerts.


The concert opens with, appropriately, In the Dark Night, a Ukrainian Lullaby, featuring the men of the choir. Naturally, to hear this Ukrainian work evoking the beauty of the Christ child hits an emotional chord, considering the trauma and destruction that the country had been faced with this past year. Both in this work and the next, Judith Weir’s My Guardian Angel, featuring the women of the choir, remind us of the vocal excellence of this choral ensemble.


As ever, the VCS’s Christmas Reprise offers traditional Christmas works, albeit in new arrangements, as well as pieces that are heard less often. Mendelssohn’s Weihnachten, Orlando di Lasso’s difficult Bone Jesu, verbum Patris, and Sweelinck’s Hodie Christus natus est, were particularly euphonious, and truly demonstrates the choir’s sensitivity to text, and the ensemble’s absolutely uniformity in diction and enunciation. The fast-moving Ding Dong! Merrily on High and the Carol of the Bells show off the group’s virtuosity. In Carol of the Bells, the women of the choir especially sang with an exhilarating lightness, and uncannily evokes the timbre of the bells. 


There were of course timeless works that we know and love, like See Amid the Winter’s SnowO Tannenbaum, and Silent Night, all in beautiful arrangements, in performances that truly remind us that “Christ is born in Bethlehem.” All these, and the two different arrangements of Ave Maria – one by Nathaniel Dett and the other by Franz Biebl (a favourite of the choir’s, I think), transport us away from the hustle and bustle that come with December. 


Saturday’s concert once again establishes the Vancouver Cantata Singers, under Artistic Director Paula Kremer, as the Vancouver’s premiere choral ensemble. What a treasure we have in our very own city!


The full house at Vancouver’s Holy Rosary Cathedral reminds me that, in spite of all we hear about living in a post-Christian world, in spite of the world’s every effort to push Christmas to the margins of our society and our consciousness, that people still want to be reminded of the love of God made manifest in Christ, the Trinitarian love of God, and the mystical body of Christ.


And that there has to be more to Christmas than finishing our shopping in time.



Monday, December 5, 2022

Artist at Work

The 2022 concert season, at least pianistically, ended on a very high note with Sergei Babayan’s concerto debut with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.


Mr. Babayan had of course made his debut in Vancouver already, in a highly distinguished recital for The Vancouver Chopin Society, in the pre-pandemic days of 2017. Since then, his schedule has been very full indeed, with appearances with artists like Daniil Trifonov and Martha Argerich, recording dates, his very busy teaching studio, and appearances with orchestras. Perhaps this is why it has taken our orchestra so long to obtain a date with him. But better late than never, because Friday night’s concert was probably one of the Vancouver Symphony’s most memorable concerts since live performances began. For this concert, Babayan chose to play Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503.


With the piano’s first entry, I immediately knew that we were in for a very special performance. I had heard this very instrument played by many outstanding artists that played with the orchestra, and in recitals, but I had not heard a musician produced such a luminous, iridescent sound from these keys. There was a sense of lightness and buoyancy with each note, and each run. And with what profound emotion he played the gorgeous G major piano theme!


In the second movement, the four simple descending notes, C, A, F and E, was played with such simplicity but transcendent beauty, that illuminated the entire movement. At times, the sounds emanating from the instrument were no longer piano sounds, but just sounds of pure beauty and joy. In the third movement, Babayan played the music with the enthusiasm of a schoolboy, in the very best sense of the word, with a palpable exuberance that makes one want to stand up and cheer. It was truly a breathtaking, and breathtakingly luminous, performance of one of Mozart’s most majestic concerti.


As with any great Mozart performance, one is reminded of the operatic nature of much of the composer’s works. Last Friday evening’s performance so reminded me of Le Nozze di Figaro, with the soloist taking all the parts, and the orchestra commenting on the action!


Inspired by Babayan’s artistry, the orchestra and Otto Tausk were sympathetic partners in this memorable performance. The orchestra’s woodwinds, especially, contributed much to the tapestry of sound colours. 


With the uncertainties and vicissitudes of traveling today, the orchestra was plagued with a couple of high-profile cancellations this season. I am glad that Vancouver audiences had this opportunity to witness the artistry of this great artist and musician, and I hope that Mr. Babayan will be a frequent visitor to our city.