March 29, 2023
Last night’s performance of the Bach B minor Mass by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir at Koerner Hall with a baroque orchestra led by their new artistic director Jean-Sébastien Vallée has put us on notice, that maybe Toronto Mendelssohn Choir are changing.
Yes they were already the big choir in town, employed by the Toronto Symphony for their annual Messiahs or an occasional Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, a high-calibre amateur ensemble, with a professional core.
But Vallée’s creative input seems to alter the equation.
For starters, that aforementioned “baroque orchestra”, populated with recognizable local stars such as John Abberger or Alison Mackay, raised the stakes for our experience of JS Bach, under Vallée’s capable leadership.
And then there’s the way the chorus sounded. I did a few double-takes, as I was frankly a bit surprised at how gentle the big choir sounded, especially in the intimacy of Koerner Hall. I think the problem for years was that this was an ensemble who were regularly played like a powerful car that’s driven with the gas pedal to the floor. The power was the priority, not the subtlety.
But Vallée has them singing softly, and even in the climactic numbers, will allow a forte only for a moment here and there, while surrounding a louder note with softer ones. Rests are properly observed, offering silence around the music. Diction is crisp and clean. They sounded precise, musical. The voices are thereby saved rather than spent. No wonder that we saw smiles.
The soloists came from among the professional ensemble. Yes there were tremendous performances, especially countertenor Simon Honeyman, tenor Nicholas Nicolaidis, mezzo-soprano Rebecca Claborn and soprano Lesley Emma Bouza. But I especially love the politics implicit in using their own talented voices, both in the dramatic moments when they come walking forward from among the choir and when we watch the soloists participate in the big numbers with the rest of the choir. It changes the way I see the work. And it likely changes the relationships within the choir: in a good way.
Read the full review on Barczablog.