Saturday, December 5, 2009

Lots of great choral music all around us this weekend!

If you, like me, love great choral singing, this is a weekend made in heaven here in Niagara. We have two performances of Handel's Messiah with Choralis Camerata as well as a Christmas CD concert with the Niagara Vocal Ensemble. By Monday, if you are not yet in the Christmas spirit, I suggest you have your pulse make sure you have one.

Let's start with Messiah. Even though Handel originally wrote the oratorio as an Easter work, and in fact it premiered in Dublin in April of 1742 at the New Music Hall, it has for years been thought of as a Christmas staple. In fact, there are more Messiah performances than anything else at this time of the year, no matter where you go in this province. Along with the classic Toronto Symphony/Toronto Mendelssohn Choir Messiah at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, we have December performances in such places as Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, Hamilton and Elora, with their appropriately-titled 'Village Messiah'. There are many more, of course, but these are the ones at least within driving distance of Niagara.

Of course, here in the Region we have the rather interesting prospect of what I have dubbed 'duelling Messiahs': as in the past, since Chorus Niagara is not doing the oratorio this year (Robert Cooper wisely alternates years so we have something different to look forward to every other year), Laura Thomas and her choral group Choralis Camerata pick up the musical gauntlet and run with it those years Chorus Niagara is doing something else. So it is this weekend, as Choralis Camerata presents their Messiah performances tonight at First Grantham United Church on Linwell Road in St. Catharines, and Sunday afternoon at Saint Alexander Roman Catholic Church in the heart of Fonthill. The chamber choir performs with the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sinfonia, conducted by Laura Thomas. Laura has done great things with this choir in a very short period of time, and her Messiah promises to be a most enjoyable performance. I will have to miss the Saturday evening performance, but I hope to be at the Sunday afternoon performance in Fonthill, with music to sell in the lobby on behalf of A Web of Fine Music. Needless to say, plenty of Messiah performances on CD and DVD will be available along with other seasonal recordings.

New this year, and quite unexpectedly, we have a second performance of Messiah in St. Catharines a week from Sunday, as the Brott Music Festival enters the fray with Boris Brott and the National Academy Orchestra. They perform Sunday evening at St. Thomas Anglican Church on Ontario Street, and I am interested to see how it is received just a week after the Choralis Camerata performances. Boris does what Boris does, of course, and I am sure it will be a wonderful performance; let's see how the audience responds this year. Should be interesting!

Meantime, also this weekend on Sunday afternoon at St. Barnabas Church on Queenston Street, the Niagara Vocal Ensemble presents their Christmas concert, titled Winter in Niagara: Seasonal Music from Niagara and Beyond. The choir is directed by Dr. Harris Loewen from the Department of Music at Brock University, and performs music by both Canadian and international composers for this concert, including W. H. Anderson, Holst, Warlock and many others. I have heard the choir many times in the past and they are an exceptional ensemble.

This concert also features the release of their brand-new Christmas CD, titled Voices of Niagara 2: A Niagara Noel. Local composers such as John Butler and Tim Phelan are both featured on this new disc; I have not heard it yet but as soon as I do I will review it in this space so you can consider it as a musical Christmas gift for either yourself or someone special on your list.

Incidentally, the choir will be joined by several alumni members for this holiday concert at St. Barnabas, and Lesley Kingham is the piano accompanist. Tickets are available through the Brock box office, but you should be okay to just pick them up at the door.

So there you go: three Messiahs in a week and the Niagara Vocal Ensemble right smack in the middle of it all. Choral fans have nothing to complain about this week!

December 5th, 2009.

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