Friday, 17 May 2013

Live Review: Canzona - St. John Passion (March 24th 2013)

St. John Passion
Westminster United Church
March 24th 2013
Four stars

Reviewed by Paul R. McCulloch

Canzona’s 2012-13 season came to a satisfying close with a powerful performance of J. S. Bach’s St. John Passion at Westminster United Church. The Passion, an apt selection for a concert on Palm Sunday, featured an impressive cast of soloists alongside the MusikBarock Ensemble, all ably conducted by Canzona’s Artistic Director Henry Engbrecht.

The Passion depicts the events leading up to the death of Jesus Christ as narrated by an Evangelist, here portrayed by promising young tenor Jan van der Hooft. Baritones Mel Braun, Kris Kornelson and Stephen Haiko – as Jesus, Pontius Pilate and Simon Peter respectively – rounded out the main cast. While Bach’s work was written in German, the program included an extensive translation of the text, which greatly enhanced audience members’ appreciation of the piece.

Van der Hooft’s performance was the highlight of the evening; he conveyed intense and often harrowing emotions with near-perfect diction and impeccable tone.  Braun’s sonorous voice and authoritative presence made him well-suited to the role of Christ.

An ambitious undertaking, the concert featured many of Canzona’s members at their finest. Sarah Kirsch was captivating as a young believer with “I follow thee also,” her joyous soprano soaring to the rafters of Westminster Church. Kornelson was particularly strong as Pilate, his expansive and versatile rendition perfectly capturing the character’s constant emotional dilemmas. Alto Kirsten Schellenberg’s voice was gorgeously-shaded and heavy with feeling as she echoed Christ’s final words, “It is accomplished.”
Marni Enns had perhaps the most poignant aria of the night; over delicate flute and oboe, she imbued a proclamation of Christ’s death, “Dissolve then, heart, in floods of tears,” with exquisite and heartbreaking sorrow. The MusikBarock Ensemble, featuring some of the finest chamber musicians in the city, provided masterful support for the vocalists.

The audience was invited to participate in the performance during two sections of the work. Coached before the concert by Engbrecht, those present were able to display their vocal skills and express the words of the Passion in its original language. The joined voices of the chorus and a remarkably capable congregation resonated throughout the venue and allowed one to connect with Bach’s masterpiece on a more intimate and personal level.

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