David Richards, Toronto Concert Reviews
April 15, 2017
Last night, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir continued its 21st century tradition of Holy Week performances in Toronto’s St. Paul’s Basilica. On perhaps the holiest of days in the Christian calendar, the church was crowded, not with parishioners, but with concertgoers seeking music as a gateway to spirituality.
For many in today’s society, Holy Week has lost all relevance. Bombs continue to be dropped; terrorists continue to threaten world peace; news of violence at home and abroad fills the airwaves. And in a personal sense, we carry on in our all too unconscious affluent lifestyles, needlessly raping the planet and destroying it for future generations as millions go hungry. It was good to be in a space where the purest of human sounds could envelop one with love and offer respite from all that is wrong in the world.
One didn’t have to be Christian or of any religious faith to appreciate the significance of the music sung as beautifully as it was in last night’s concert. Artistic Director and Conductor Noel Edison put together a sacred a cappella program of great choral music from each of five centuries, the 17th through to the 21st. The words and music of Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere Mei, Deus are as relevant today as they were in Rome five hundred years ago. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew your right spirit within me.” In The Reproaches by John Derek Sanders, there is an expression of the pain of the victims of religious intolerance, bigotry, terrorism and war. “I opened the sea before you, but you opened my side with a spear.”
The pared down version of the choir, The Mendelssohn Singers, sang the first half of the program from the balcony above and behind the nave. The positioning gave a wonderfully mystic effect to the music, allowing the audience to focus on the sounds that reverberated off the arched columns and the vaulted ceiling of the ornately decorated church. The music of Allegri, Pärt and Sanders all made use of plainsong and choral responses to give life to the texts. The recurring solo treble descants in Allegri’s Miserere Mei, Deus were particularly beautiful, the high “C” ringing throughout the church. This was a cappella singing at its finest.
Read the full review online.