SCRUTINY | Choral Splendor Marks TMC’s The Creation at Koerner Hall

By Joseph So on April 29, 2016

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir with Artistic Director Noel Edison (Photo: Joseph So)
Toronto Mendelssohn Choir with Artistic Director Noel Edison and soloists (Photo: Joseph So)

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir: The Creation at Koerner Hall. April 27, 2016.

One of the cornerstones of the oratorio repertoire, Haydn’s The Creation (Die Schöpfung) is a wonderful work that I never get tired of hearing. Together with Die Jahreszeiten, it’s two pieces on my short list of go-to oratorios if I ever want a “spiritual uplift.” So it was great to hear it again the other evening at Koerner Hall. For some reason I associate this piece with the arrival of spring, so how appropriate that the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir is programming it in April!  The three soloists were soprano Leslie Ann Bradley, tenor Zach Finkelstein, and bass-baritone Alexander Hajek, with TMC Artistic Director Noel Edison at the helm.

The work is in three parts — the first two segments are narrative in nature, dealing with “the creation” chronologically. Part 3 focuses on Adam and Eve. The three soloists take on the roles of the angels — Gabriel (soprano), Uriel (tenor), and Raphael (bass), with the soprano and the bass taking on Adam and Eve in Part 3.  There’s a German as well, and I heard a great performance of it back some thirty years ago at the Musikverein. While it was good to hear it in German in Vienna, I must say it makes a lot of sense to do it in English here, otherwise, the textual nuances with its built-in humour would have been lost. And the house light was kept sensibly high enough last evening for the audience to read the text — bravo!

While far from full, Koerner Hall was quite well attended with many familiar faces, all TMC’s loyal followers. I noticed in the audience quite a few elderly people with physical disabilities. It couldn’t have been easy for them, given the physical struggles to get there. Yes, there were various extraneous noises coming from the different medical equipment used by the elderly patrons, which could be a bit annoying, but hey that’s part of life! I just hope when I am old and feeble, I’ll still have the desire to go out to hear great music.

The three soloists were all familiar to Toronto music lovers. Leslie Ann Bradley excels in both opera and as a concert singer. The soprano solo is very florid, requiring agility and purity of tone. On this occasion, Bradley was at her best in the quiet and adagio sections, her middle voice truly lovely. In fast music, the tempo was too brisk for her to negotiate the coloratura cleanly, as a result it was a bit smudged and the top notes rather tight and pinched, especially in fortissimo. Zach Finkelstein has a light tenor — what he lacks in vocal weight, he makes up for it with a sweet timbre. While I’m used to a more substantial tenor sound in this music, he did well. Of the three soloists, Alexander Hajek came off the best. His voice with its warm timbre has the right colour and weight, and he fully exploited the humour in the text, and the audience responded.

Not surprisingly, top honours went to the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Canada’s oldest and largest choral group, TMC is a national treasure. I count myself lucky to be living in Toronto and have heard them countless times making great music.  I noticed on this occasion that several people I knew are no longer there. It makes me a little sad.  But I also know a choir renews itself with the passage of time. That’s the cycle of life, to be celebrated, not mourned. I was told the concert was live streamed on the internet. I hope some of you managed to catch it. Not sure if it is archived. If so, it would be worth seeking out.

#LUDWIGVAN

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Joseph So

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