Review by Judith Caldwell
Last evening, Hamilton’s Bach Elgar Choir deviated from their usual fare to offer a concert of Canadian folksongs. The Choir was led by Alexander Cann and accompanied by Krista Rhodes, piano and flautist Susan Edmonds. The first half was of older, more traditional songs – most over 200 years old – and began with a Huron Dance Song which sounded very familiar to us in Southern Ontario with its traditional drum beat and words with no meaning sung to reinforce the beat. Then on to a 1919 shipwreck song from Newfoundland which honoured the Captain for grounding the ship and thus avoiding loss of life.
The initial group of songs was rounded out by Savoury, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, a familiar English folk song popular in British Columbia. These three songs epitomized the pleasing variety and sophistication of the program. The next offering, naturally, came from Quebec and included a fun song about a bashful male wallflower egged on to dance by the female choir members; and a gorgeous, slow, thoughtful song of the 1837/38 rebellion titled ‘Un canadien errant’ (a wandering Canadian) reflecting the fact that the failed rebels were either hanged or transported to Australia.
Ontario was represented by Come All You Bold Canadians, this time from the winning team in the 1812 war. This was the first song of seven which featured various soloists from the choir and showed the marvelous musical talent present. The final three songs of the first part were from the Maritimes, Citadel Hill from Nova Scotia and then a pair of very different songs from Newfoundland, the first a complicated, sophisticated arrangement of ‘Feller from Fortune’ and the second a simple, moving and lovely rendition of ‘She’s Like a Swallow’ featuring two more soloists.
After intermission the songs were more contemporary written by the likes of Anna MacGillivray, Bruce Cockburn and Wayne Hemsworth of ‘The Cat Came Back’ fame. First was a lovely, harmonic song ‘Away From the Roll of the Sea’ by MacGillivray followed by Cockburn’s ‘All the Diamonds’ which featured intricate piano playing. For a change of pace a soulful song about winter which was a bit sad, but so gorgeous the audience enjoyed it. ‘The Log Drivers Waltz’ was fun and ‘Fare the Well, Love’ a nice Cape Breton Celtic song from the Rankin family. ‘Northwest Passage’ was the stand-out of the afternoon. It featured a solo by Richard Cunningham a countertenor who usually sings alto but this time he sang as a baritone. The song begins with a few men singing, gradually joined by the rest of the men in the choir and finally the females, so that it starts as a sea shanty and swells to a full, totally satisfying anthem. A clear audience favourite. Cape Breton was represented again with a sad song looking back to Scotland with Celtic longing, then a lovely version of MacGillivray’s ‘Song for the Mira’ with two soloists which was much appreciated by the totally engaged audience. An Inuit hunting song did not fare as well; it was discordant and seemed to suffer from too many singers. The three soloists were excellent but the choir was overwhelming. This excellent concert wrapped up with a sing-along version of Auld Lang Syne, a fitting ending to a seriously varied and interesting concert that the almost capacity audience thoroughly enjoyed. Next concert is Messiah on Saturday, Dec. 10th, at Melrose United Church.