Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring is Here! Bring on the choral music!

Spring officially, finally, arrived yesterday morning at precisely 7:44 am. I was out for my walk late yesterday afternoon and although it didn't feel too spring-like with the cooler temperatures, the blue sky and calm winds, along with the start of spring bulbs poking up through the earth in the garden already, told me that yes, indeed, we are on that road to spring for another year.

I don't know why, but I always associate choral music with the springtime. Perhaps because Easter is in the spring and so many concerts feature choral music geared towards the season, we just naturally link the two together. And for me, hearing voices rise up in song and resonate from a vaulted ceiling in a lovely old cathedral just sounds right at this time of the year.

When you talk great choral music for Easter, you almost invariably think of Bach and Handel, with the former usually leading the latter in choral performances at Easter. Handel usually wins the Christmas popularity contests with his oratorio Messiah, but you could - and should - enjoy Messiah at Easter also, as much of it really has to do with Easter rather than the Christmas season. And in fact, it premiered in Dublin around Easter time in 1741. But now, it is a Christmas staple, leaving the choral field open to Bach and his wonderful St. Matthew and St. John Passions and the magnificent Mass in B Minor, not to mention his Easter Cantatas.

I remember years ago, after attending the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival (now there's a juxtaposition of activities!) driving down to Hamilton to hear a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion with the Bach-Elgar Choir at a cathedral in the downtown core, the name of which escapes me after all these years. But the blue sky with the sun going down as we entered the church for the performance on a cool spring evening, setting the scene for the powerful music we were about to hear inside, has stayed with me to this very day. I also remember not as many years ago hearing the same work at the majestic Church of Our Lady in downtown Guelph, set high on a hill as you enter the downtown. The performance by the Guelph Chamber Choir was equally moving that Sunday afternoon; I remember being particularly touched that day as it came about a month or so after the untimely death of my mother, and it was the first concert I had gone to since that event. There have been other performances, of course, in Toronto, here in Niagara and elsewhere that somehow define Easter season and the beginning of spring.

This season, we have already had a performance of the Mass in B Minor with Chorus Niagara a couple of weeks ago, and although I was in the wing outside of the church proper, I could tell the performance was exceptional and had touched the hearts of the capacity crowd at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria here in St. Catharines. Next Saturday evening, Choralis Camerata presents their spring performance, titlted "Heaven Laughs, The Earth Rejoices", at Lundy's Lane United Church in Niagara Falls. Featured will be the Easter Cantata 31 by Bach, along with other works appropriate to the season. It promises to be a great evening of music, and if you want to go, tickets are available by calling 905-354-4348, or you can log on to their website at I will be there that evening in the lobby at intermission and after the performance, so be sure to say hello if you go.

On my website this month, found at, you can find excellent performances of both the B Minor Mass and the Easter Cantata 31 for sale, both at excellent prices. The B Minor Mass is a two-CD set on Naxos featuring the Dresden Chamber Choir and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra. The Easter Cantata, also a two-CD set from Berlin Classics, features all of Bach's Easter Cantatas performed by the Thomanerchor Leipzig and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. These recordings will keep the performances with you long after the spring has gone for another year!

March 21st, 2009.

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