Review by Danny Gaisin
Handel composed twenty-nine oratorios but one composition stands so far out from the pack as to almost render the others insignificant. Everyone knows ‘Messiah’, but ‘Esther’ is also a creative work and so is SAMSON! Composed in 1741, it is a respectful and empathetic retelling of the Old Testament’s last ruling judge before the establishment of King David (Judges 13-16). The work is ambitious to stage; difficult to perform; and more than just diversion for the audience – it’s an experience. Statistics: – MASTERWORKS of OAKVILLE has assembled thirty-two musicians; seventy-seven choir members; four soloists and eleven members of St. Andrew’s Children’s Choir chamber team.
All of these perform together, under the baton of artistic director Charles Demuynck.
For a unique change, we were seated beside the director; about 6 feet from concertmaster Alain Bouvier, and one row from the soloists. For us -a different insight into a staged concert. It enhanced the experience.
No need to outline the plot – ‘read the Book’! The four extremely talented soloists were soprano Clodagh Earls;i Zach Finkelstein –tenor; mezzo Kyle Engler; and a last-minute substitution- Joel Allison whose voice is Bass-baritone. All four have resumés that boggle one’s mind. Earls’ voice is like the feel of cashmere with a softness that brought the imagery of cotton candy to mind. Finkelstein has a mellow tenor which he offers with each syllable clear and perfectly enunciated. Zauberflote’s ‘Papagano’ may have been written for a baritone, but Finkelstein has the instinctive mannerisms that would surely enhance the role. He’s also a perfect ‘Sancho Panza’ (Man of LaMancha). If musical comedy ever crosses his mind – physically & vocally he’d be a natural for ‘OG’ (Finian’s Rainbow).
Ms. Engler possesses a full control of her range with a superlative and un-embellished diction that reminded me of the late news-anchor Lorne Greene whose CBC broadcasts helped mitigate the fears of Canadians during the darkest days of WWII. The bass arias & recitivos (prose) were more than adequately performed by Allison. He has a powerful & emphatic voice that proved the most dramatic of all. A perfect selection for his protagonist characterizations.
There are some familiar and popular parts in the oratorio that are even considered stand-alone s. The “Fix’d in His Everlasting seat “ number that closes Act II utilizes the talents of the entire vocal assemblage. There are also ‘Total Eclipse’ & the dynamic orchestral piece ‘Dead March’.The most familiar aria is ‘Let the Bright seraphim’ and Earls aced it. However, her mid-concert duet as Delilah titled ‘My Faith and truth, Oh Samson’ was the stand-out. Coupled with the angelically demeanour ed, with voice to match of Olivia Neary-Hatton (St. Andrews Choir) paired two perfectly melded sopranos. What a viral video-moment this would have made.
MASTERWORKS has existed just thirteen years but seems to have taken as it’s mandate performing compositions that push the popular envelope. Thus, attendance is also an educational experience.
Their December 7th concert in Hamilton will be nationally broadcast!