Cantata concert a fitting farewell for Michael Zaugg


Canadian Connections III

Cantata Singers of Ottawa with Pro Coro Canada

Michael Zaugg, conductor

St. Joseph’s Church, Sunday afternoon

Reviewed May 11

The past week has yielded a bumper crop of choral music in Ottawa. The Ottawa Choral Society and the Ottawa Bach Choir performed last Sunday and Friday respectively, while the area’s other major choir, the Cantata Singers of Ottawa, gave a concert in the spacious venue of St. Joseph’s Church this Sunday afternoon.

It was a happy-sad occasion, happy in that it was full of wonderful music, sad because it was Michael Zaugg’s last concert of nine seasons at the CSO’s helm, arguably their finest nine seasons. Since 2012 he has been the artistic director of Edmonton’s Pro Coro Canada and on Sunday that choir joined the CSO in Zaugg’s farewell-Ottawa program.

In fact, it was the Edmonton group that started things off Sunday afternoon with a breathtaking rendition of Cri des bergers by the Catalan composer Bernat Vivancos. It’s a piece in which a single singer intones a pastoral chant and the chorus, spread about the church, echoes it in a most ingenious fashion.

There followed three excerpts from Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil. Both choirs sang under the direction of Amy Henderson, the CSO’s assistant conductor. Between the qualities of the score, the ideal blend and tuning of the choirs and the sunlight streaming from the church’s high windows, one had the impression of being bathed in liquid beauty.

Zaugg mounted the podium once more to conduct both ensembles in two Mendelssohn motets and the PCC alone in another gorgeous piece, Laudibus in Sanctis by Latvian composer, Ugis Praulins.

The second half of the program opened with Canticum Calamitatus Maritimae (Song of a Maritime Disaster), which is just as dramatic and even horrifying as you might imagine. Its text is taken in part from a Finnish Broadcasting program called News in Latin. The PCC handled it with complete aplomb, nailing its frequently angular harmonies each time.

Two shorter and lighter pieces followed, Eric Whitacre’s Water Night and the spiritual Down to the River to Pray. Then came Santiago from Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles. It expresses a pilgrim’s joy and sense of closure upon reaching the famous church Santiago de Compostela.

As Zaugg said, as he introduced the performance, it represented the culmination of his joyful nine-year journey with the Cantata Singers.

It ends with a phrase that repeats over and over, “God help us now and ever more.” And as they sang it, the choirs proceeded through the sanctuary, the Cantata Singers in the outer aisles and Pro Coro, followed by Zaugg, down the centre.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only member of the audience with tears in his eyes.

© Michael Zaugg 2019