September 24, 2023
Friday night saw the first concert of the Toronto Mendelssohn Singers’ 2023/24 season at Jeanne Lamon Hall. It was an intriguing programme both in the choice of music and in the use of dance in the presentation. The bookends were two works written in 1707 by two 22 year olds; JS Bach and GF Händel. The sandwich filling, as it were, was To the Hands by Caroline Shaw.
Bach’s Christ lag in Todesbanden BWV 4 takes us on a journey from dark to light with each movement or verse being a variation on the basic Lutheran hymn from which the text is taken. It uses choir, strings, harpsichord and rgan to good effect. The bonus here was a black clad Laurence Lemieux dancing an expressive, if somewhat lugubrious, choreography on the stage behind the musicians.
For the Shaw piece, which deals with displacement due to war or other disaster, the singers were on the stage with no dancers. It’s a complex piece with a variety of vocal and instrumental techniques involved. It’s in works like this that the smaller TMS (vs extended Toronto Mendelssohn Choir) really comes into its own.
The singers filed back down to orchestra level during the prelude to Händel’s Dixit Dominus. It’s a very different work from the Bach. Different movements use different combinations of soloists and parts of the chorus which is interesting but doesn’t have the structural coherence of the Bach. We had dancers again here. Six members of La Compagnie de la Citadelle danced a much more kinetic routine than that for the Bach. It was interesting and definitely brought an extra dimension.
One thing I did notice from where I was sitting in front of the orchestra is that when the singers were at floor level rather than on stage the sound got rather diffused by the hall acoustic. It was much better articulated when they were on stage. I think if they go with this arrangement again I’ll see what it sounds like from the balcony.
Overall, an enjoyable and intriguing fusion of choral music and dance which once again vindicates music director Jean-Sébastien Vallée’s decision to use the smaller, all professional, ensemble for certain types of repertoire.
Read the full review on operaramblings.