Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Live Review: Canzona (October 28th 2012)

Concert I – Zelenka and Bach
Crescent Fort Rouge United Church
October 28th 2012
Four and a half stars

Reviewed by Paul R. McCulloch

On October 28th, Winnipeg’s Canzona treated an audience at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church to an evening of warmth, light, and wonderful music. Accompanied by the MusikBarock Ensemble under the baton of Eric Lussier, the choral ensemble performed Jan Dismas Zelenka’s Missa votiva ZWV 18 and Bach’s Cantata BWV 80 Ein feste Burg, or A Mighty Fortress is Our God. Crescent Fort Rouge United, with its intimate setting, served as a refuge from the cold October weather and was the perfect venue for this performance.

The evening began with Zelenka’s Missa votiva. Zelenka, a seventeenth-century Czech composer, wrote the piece as a form of gratitude to God after recovering from a lengthy and near-lethal illness. The music, “offered as a special intention," felt accordingly charged with energy and devotion. The piece was comprised of five parts, with the Kyrie and Gloria opening the concert and the Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei performed after intermission. 

The first half of the Missa featured several solo performances, with soprano Marni Enns’ lovely, shaded take on “Qui tollis peccata mundi” and bass Paul Wiens’ subtle rendition of “Quoniam tu solus Sanctus” as highlights. A “Kyrie eleison” quartet, comprised of alto Kim Brown, tenor Doug Pankratz, bass Kris Kornelson and soprano Sara Clefstad – who shone in her debut as a soloist with the ensemble – provided a further showcase of Canzona’s vocal abilities. The Gloria felt lively and spirited, with the vivacious melodies of “Gratias agimus” and “Gloria in excelsis Deo” bringing to mind the folk dances of Zelenka’s homeland.

The Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei sections of Zelenka’s work captivated the audience with a feeling of spiritual depth and sincerity. Soprano Zohreh Gervais expressed the devotional nature of the Sanctus with her beautiful interpretation of “Benedictus."

While dividing Zelenka’s work into two sections may have seemed unusual, the choice was a wise one, allowing for a stunning ending to the concert. The Credo in particular was exuberant and energetic, with its last words, “Et vita ventum saeculi,” rising to the rafters in a thrilling crescendo of intricate harmonies and passionate bow-work.

Bach’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God, the second selection of the program, found the ensemble taking full advantage of the unique atmosphere of the venue. Soprano Sarah Kirsch impressed in her aria “Komm in meines Herzenshaus," while, in a personal and thoughtful touch, the listeners were invited to sing along with the chorus during “Und wenn die welt voll Teufel wär." Coached by Eric Lussier prior to the performance, the surprisingly adept and boisterous audience did a fantastic job, lending a festive ambiance to the concert.

The evening was an artistically superb and emotionally resonant event. Speaking after the concert, Artistic Director Henry Engbrecht commented that the Missa votiva’s power reflected Zelenka’s sheer joy at being alive and able to continue his artistic vocation. The vitality of the ensemble’s performance was a perfect fit for the composer’s intention.

It’s a shame that Canzona has only one other performance this concert season, but if this evening is any indication, it will be another highlight of Winnipeg’s classical music scene.

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