Review by Judith Caldwell
On Sunday, the Bach Elgar Choir offered a truly monumental concert for the Centennial of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. They were joined by soprano Jennifer Taverner, mezzo Mia Lennox, tenor Owen McCausland, baritone Geoffrey Sirett, plus the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and the Regimental Band of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry.
The RHLI is one of Canada’s oldest combat regiments, predating Confederation, and they fought in WW I at Ypres, the Somme, Passchendaele and Vimy. Their Regimental Band wears the authentic scarlet uniforms of 1866. They opened the concert with Arthur Bliss’ Fanfare for a Dignified Occasion, a very suitable beginning.
Then Thomas Bidgood’s Vimy Ridge March which was quite upbeat, rather jolly and very well performed under the direction of Maj Michael Rehill. The band marched out and left Alexander Cann to conduct the balance of the concert.
The Choir sang ‘In Flanders Fields’ acapella to music by Eleanor Daley which beautifully set a more sombre and serious tone. The large piece of the first half was Ralph Vaughan Williams ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’. Vaughan Williams served in WW I as a stretcher bearer and his choral work speaks of the destruction and tragedy of war and a celebration of peace. It was written in 1935-36 as fascism was on the offensive. It uses texts from the Bible as well as poems of Walt Whitman, who served in hospitals during the American Civil War. The words and music both identify the awful propulsive dynamic of going to war ‘Beat! Beat! Drums! Blow! Bugles! Blow! and the slow healing process after the conflict.
Solos by soprano and baritone emphasize these opposites and the choir ultimately brings beauty and acceptance to what had been violent chaos. This is a very powerful piece written by a master at the height of his powers and performed with precision and conviction – and that was only the start of the concert.
After intermission came Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a piece which he famously failed to complete. There have been several ‘completions’, the first by his pupil Franz Xavier Sussmeyer, and that was chosen by Cann because even though he was not a great composer he was ‘thoroughly immersed in Mozart’s style and uniquely situated to finish the work.’ There is much discussion about how much is Mozart and how much Sussmeyer, but the whole work bears Mozart’s unmistakable stamp and reflects the knowledge of the fragility of our mortality to a dying man. This is painfully obvious in the hauntingly beautiful Lacrimosa which forms a central part of the Requiem and which was performed so well that it raised hairs this afternoon.
The Rex tremendae and the Sanctus were performed as big, powerful pieces and the Confutatis was dramatic. The whole work was approached as a work of gravity worthy of the best the choir, soloists and orchestra could offer, and their best was marvelous. The Bach Elgar Choir under Cann’s direction gave a stunningly and evocative performance.
The 2017/18 season Concert Series is on their website.