Concert Review: Cantata Singers Ottawa

Cantata Singers of Ottawa, Michael Zaugg, conductor, with Michele Gott, harp

St. Joseph’s Church

Every time I attend an event at St. Joseph’s Church I ask myself why: Why do musicians, choral groups in particular, subject themselves and their listeners to the abysmal acoustics of that venue. Perhaps the rental is cheaper than, say, Dominion Chalmers. The stage area is more spacious than at D.C., and St. Joseph’s will hold a fair size audience. But neither of these was an issue in the Cantata Singers of Ottawa concert Sunday afternoon. The Ottawa Choral Society, more than double the size of the CSO, has performed there often - too often, in fact - and it will be giving a concert next Sunday at Dominion-Chalmers with its smaller stage. 

As for audience capacity, fewer than 150 attended this concert. That’s a shame since, poor acoustics notwithstanding, it was a lovely concert. As its title, Lux, implies, it was given to music that concerns itself in one way or another with light. It began and ended with Jordan Nobles’ Lux Antiqua for “spatialized” choir and harp, the latter played by the American musician Michelle Gott. The spatialized choir in this instance was in the shape of an inverted U, that extended into each of the side aisles.

It’s a wonderful piece beginning with the singers doing some controlled heavy breathing, probably evoking the wind. When the actual singing begins, it is quasi-antiphonal and most affecting. Gott’s harp playing was delicate and apt. She made an especially good impression later on with Liszt’s evocative and lovely Le Rossignol. It was originally written for Liszt’s instrument, the piano, but the transcription Gott played surpassingly beautiful, at least in her hands. She was also outstanding in Lyne Wainright Palmer’s Sarabande.

Among the other items worthy of note is Warum ist das Licht gegeben, a solid choral work by Brahms which, along with the Liszt piece, was the only work written by a composer who no longer walks among us. Eric Whitaker’s Lux Arumque (Light and Gold) was a glowing Nativity piece and perhaps the most memorable offering of the afternoon. After the intermission the singers performed first from the back of the church, mostly from beneath the organ loft. They sounded much better from there. Peter-Anthony Togni’s Requiem et Lux featured some stunning double-fortes and some deliciously teasing dissonance. Throughout the afternoon, the choir sang well, though the diction was not always up to scratch, especially in the Brahms. There were some minor intonation and ensemble issues too, but they were few and not too serious.

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© Michael Zaugg 2019