David Richards, Toronto Concert Reviews
The lights dimmed at St. Paul’s Basilica bringing a hush over the capacity audience and suddenly heavenly a cappella sounds began wafting down from the balcony in the rear of the church. Since 2007, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir has made it a tradition to present a concert of music appropriate for Holy Week in one of the most beautiful churches in Toronto on one of the Christian church’s holiest days, Good Friday. As the choir began to sing, I squelched the temptation to look back; looking upward at the colourful ceiling paintings of the life of Paul was as far as I dared turn my head. I was transfixed in the moment. The words of Behold the Tabernacle of God reinforced the feeling that I was in a ‘sacred’ space.
This transcendent work of Healy Willan which opened the program was as beautiful as it was fitting. The lush harmonies combined with the musical lines reminiscent of plainsong. Of the more than 350 compositions that the Canadian dean of church music wrote during his lifetime, there are few with words and music that speak as well to the remarkable setting on Good Friday as the last line, This is the house of God, and this is the gate of heav’n.
The greatest challenge for guest conductor David Fallis came in the work that followed, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G Minor. Singing without accompaniment is perhaps the most difficult assignment for any musician. With no keys to press, open strings to refer to, or valves to depress, one can rely only on one’s ear to stay in tune. In a 25-minute work such as the one by Vaughan Williams, some would say it is almost impossible. It is remarkable then, that Fallis was able to coax a purity of sound, soaring musical lines and blended voices while keeping the choir in tune throughout.
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