Dave Richards, Toronto Concert Reviews.
It was a miserable night to trudge downtown. The six or more inches of snow and slush were enough to discourage many from heading out. By mid-afternoon in Oakville when I learned that the GO trains would be cancelled for several hours, my own attendance was put in doubt. But for those of us who did brave the weather to St. Andrew’s Church, The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and their Interim Conductor and Artistic Director David Fallis made it more than worth our effort with a celebration of Haydn and Handel.
Fallis chose two composers who are right in the wheel-house of his own experience having conducted and performed the music of Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods for thirty or so years. As he explained at the outset of the concert, he chose two composers who at the height of their popularity composed music for grand occasions. Handel had made a name for himself in London composing operas and had just been granted citizenship in 1727 when he was commissioned to write the music for King George II’s and Queen Caroline’s coronations. The resulting anthems are some of the most joyful music imaginable.
Some seventy years later, Haydn returned to Vienna from his successful trips to London and was asked to compose a mass as part of a dazzling celebration by Prince Nicholaas II of the Esterházy family in honour of his wife Maria Hermenegild. The resultant Missa in tempore belli was one of six masses that Haydn wrote for the successive annual celebrations of her name day. The mass, with full orchestra including a full complement of winds and timpani expressed a triumphant spirit in a time when soldiers were preparing to do battle with Napoleon. One could imagine the confident footsteps going into battle with timpani and brass leading the way in the Agnus Dei.
The choir, with well over a hundred singers filled the church with glorious sounds. Fallis, whose own training began as a boy soprano in St. George’s Youth Choir and the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus under the late Lloyd Bradshaw, knows how to get the most out of his singers. His lifetime of conducting choirs, opera, and early music ensembles also began when Lloyd Bradshaw appointed him as Assistant Conductor of the Orpheus Choir. Fallis has an infectious sparkle in his personality that makes one want to sing. Add to this trait his impeccable musicianship and deep understanding of the musical style of these composers, and the result was overwhelming. It isn’t often that I get goosebumps from a performance, but there were several instances when the soaring sounds of sopranos produced them for me.
The soloists, soprano Mireille Asselin, mezzo-soprano Christina Stelmacovich, tenor Asitha Tennekoon and bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus were stylistically spot-on and vocally splendid. Most of their singing was in ensemble and they balanced each other beautifully in groups of two, three and four singers. All four have achieved great notoriety with music of the Baroque and Classical periods. It showed.
Read the full review here.