Michael Johnson, Concertonet.com
This year’s Easter presentation by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (“Sacred Music in a Sacred Space“) took place at St. Anne’s Anglican Church a heritage building whose interior was decorated in the 1920s by notable artists in a style hearkening back to art nouveau. The space thus related nicely with the program of 20th century music composed between 1910 and 1987, a time period that experienced the emergence of various musical philosophies and styles. The word “rapt“ best describes the approach of all eight composers.
The first half was performed by the 64-member Mendelssohn Singers while the second half, with its focus on eastern Christian modes, employed the full 118-voice TMC.
The major work was quite a revelation: Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir, composed in the 1920s but not performed until 1963. The work has a declarative sureness about it despite the youngish age of the composer, as did this performance.
Frank Martin was French-Swiss and his work was preceded by two French works. First was Olivier Messiaen’s O sacrum convivium (from 1937), a piece in which the subtle flow implies a barely constrained drama just beneath the surface. This was followed by Francis Poulenc’s meditative Salve Regina of 1941, such a contrast from earlier works like his Chansons gaillardes, but a foreshadowing of Dialogues des carmélites.
Alfred Schnittke’s “Complete this work which I began” is the final movement of his Concerto for Choir (1984-85). It becomes increasingly ethereal, almost as if the composer and choir are breathing their last. It certainly whets ones appetite for hearing the entire work.
The program concluded with what can almost be called the choir’s signature work, Healey Willan’s An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts, commissioned by the choir and first performed in 1923. Once again for double choir, it shows influence from both the eastern luturgical tradition and Willan’s Anglo-Catholic style.
Read the full review online.