Last night’s Soundstreams concert at Trinity St. Paul’s was devoted to works by John Tavener and people who were close to him. The principal performers were soprano Patricia Rozario, Choir 21 and the Toronto Children’s Chorus joined, as needed by Christopher Dawes on piano and organ and Erica Goodman on harp. Conducting duties were split between Elise Bradley and David Fallis. There was plenty of explanatory material from artistic director Lawrence Cherney plus some from Ms. Rozario as well as taped comments from Tavener to set up the pieces.
The first half got under way with Tavener’s Missa Brevis for children’s chorus and organ. It’s a fascinating mix of quintessential Tavener polyphony with some harsher elements where the choral writing goes higher than is comfortable for young voices. The “movements” of the mass are punctuated by short, violent intrusions on the organ. Fascinating stuff very effectively sung by the children conducted by Ms. Bradley. This was followed by two pieces by Jonathan Harvey; I Love the Lord and The Angels, sung by Choir 21 with Fallis conducting. These were very much in the same sound world as the Tavener. The text of The Angels, by John V. Taylor, is an interesting one and somewhat different from the directly biblical/missal inspired texts of the rest.
The first half closed out with Christos Hatzis’ setting of Psalm 91. It’s a fascinating piece. As well as polyphony it uses whispering and breathing and foot stomping. The harp art requires sounds I have never heard before from a harp. It’s brilliant and disturbing and reflects a less “obvious” or “conventional” exploration of spirituality than Tavener or Harvey. The performance by Choir 21, Ms. Goodman and David Fallis was extraordinarily intense. I’m glad that Mr. Hatzis was there to hear it.
The second half opened with Vanraj Bhatja’s song cycle Six Seasons for soprano and piano. It’s a skilful and amusing piece very well realised by Rozario and Dawes but somehow seemed out of place in this program. I think I would have enjoyed it much more in the context of a song recital. Then it was back to the choral stuff with three works by Tavener. The highlight of the whole program for me was Lament of the Mother of God. This is a searing piece for choir and soprano. The passion and humanity and pathos and despair that Ms. Rozario put into the words given to Mary as she watches Jesus on the cross was quite extraordinary. Brilliant stuff.
I’ll probably not be overly sad if I never hear another setting of Blake’s The Lamb but Tavener’s is a decent one and it’s interestingly scored, and was well performed here, for mixed and children’s choir. We finished up with Song for Athene. It’s an interesting piece. Mellifluous Alleluias for the male voices are sandwiched with more direct settings of lines of scripture for the high voices and children. It’s short and effective.
So, a really interesting program very well presented. Both choirs were really excellent and, for once, the very resonant acoustic of Trinity St. Paul’s was a plus. It was lovely to hear some Tavener live and I shall certainly be checking out more of Christos Hatzis’ music. Bravo Soundstreams!