In Winter is the latest digital offering from the COC and is available free until June. Described by the COC as a concert that “explores and celebrates winter” it’s more a Eurocentric potpourri of seasonal fare with a decidedly Christmas twist. It’s a cut above “Christmas’ Greatest Hits” though a John Rutter arrangement of Deck the Halls and I’ll be Home for Christmas are in that vein and even the exuberance and lovely voice of Midori Marsh can’t make more of The Twelve Days of Christmas than is there to be had.
There’s meatier fare too though. There is chamber music by Vivaldi (perhaps predictably) and by Morten Lauridsen and George Enescu (less predictably). Alex Halliday sings a very nice account of Vaughan Williams’ The Roadside Fire and Jamie Groote throws herself into Lehar’s Vilja, O Vilja. There’s a really lovely bilingual O Holy Night from Matthew Cairns and Charlotte Siegel to finish too.
Best of all though is Ian Cusson’s In Winter. It’s a setting of poetry by Métis poet Katherena Vermette. The music is complex, colourful and evocative and entirely at one with the text and I think that’s where the magic lies for me. This is poetry and music of a people who have an organic relationship with winter; something I think which is true for both Indigenous and settler people in Canada and which is different from European Christmas music. That tradition steadfastly ignores the fact that winter was a time of pinching want for most people until quite recently. There where few blazing log fires or enormous roasts on spits in the Lancashire mill towns of my forebears. n Winter neither glosses nor euphemises the harshness of the Canadian winter. It just recognises it as part of us. The performance, centred on a nuanced and subtle performance by Melody Courage as soprano soloist, is really excellent. This is a piece I shall return to.
Up until now I’ve said nothing about the COC orchestra or chorus which feature prominently; en mass and in smaller ensembles. How much I miss them. They are very fine and so versatile and Johannes Debus gets so much out of them. Production values for this concert too show that the COC has mastered the fancy audio-visual kit now in place at the Four Seasons centre. Technically In Winter is flawless. They even manage an interesting look for this concert. Standard concert black is relieved by bright red COC scarves which is quite jolly, except perhaps for the strings. Their outfits are capped by black surgical masks which look slightly sinister. A Catholic guild on its way to an auto da fe perhaps?
So there we have it. It’s a Christmas concert with a few nods to the “base, common and popular” I could have skipped over but also some really good music beautifully performed and skilfully captured on film.