“You can only make a first impression once,” goes the old adage. Peter Landey’s Magnificat came into the world last March, brought to life by its commissioner, the Etobicoke Centennial Choir with assistance from the composer’s resident Brock University Chorale. Eight months later, it received its Niagara début in the sanctuary of the extra-reverberant St. Thomas Anglican Church, this time with the Renaissance Singers and the Brock University Festival Singers adding their voices to the mix.
The modest turnout for a concert of this importance to the musical community of Niagara and the region’s varied religions—all of whom could take away spiritual as well as intellectual comfort from such an offering—raises questions about the intensity of the beliefs held by both groups locally. Perhaps if the mercifully off-camera, and “The Greatest Canadian” nominee, Don Cherry, had emceed, the church would have been jammed to its California-hued ceiling.
Those fortunate enough to be present were rewarded with Landey’s most personal statement to date: ideas, thoughts and insights brilliantly woven into the liturgical fabric of a form that has been put to good use for hundreds of years (cross-reference below).
From the harp’s opening notes, propelling the music to the first chorus (Magnificat anima mea) the mood of reverent, detached belief was established—the notion of an uncertain faith tellingly reinforced through the stability and support of the Casavant organ.
Soprano Lisa Cosens-Brillon, singing with steady authority, eased through the Qui respexit, which, by providing such stark contrast, set up the power of the Ecce enim ex hoc. Here, the music hit an early peak with its brief homage to chromaticism, a happily wayward dominant resolution, and one of the finest “emms” (coaxed from his forces by conductor Harris Loewen whose skill added considerably to the evening’s most satisfying offering) I have heard.
The interaction of Cosens-Brillon with the chorus (Quia fecit mihi magna) produced a near-conversational sequence of tough heavenly love that seamlessly moved into the Sanctum nomen ejus where the finest resonance of the night—first from the women, but soon matched by the men—combined to evoke a fleeting glimpse of hope by its end.
That effort seemed to exhaust the chorus as its upper reaches in the following Et misericordia ejus suffered from a lack of pitch-sure support even as the harp’s Mahler-like punctuation assured the onward flow. In unison, the men made a compelling case for the opening of Fecit potentiam, showing text solidity through the strength of their lungs. It fell to the “feet” of the organ to effectively make the transition to Deposuit potentes de sede, which featured an eerie landscape, real warmth from the chorus and a walking bass that effectively bridged the centuries.
Even at the bottom of his range, Dennis Giesbrecht’s rich silky tenor overpowered his partner in the duet, Esurientes implevit bonis, which, nonetheless, provided still another layer of colour to the work; its final major chord faintly echoing the very finest moments of another master of choral texture, tone and voicing: Charles Ives.
After a somewhat hesitant start, the final Gloria Patri blossomed magnificently into a grand and glorious cry that shook the walls and inspired the gathering all the way through to the final cadence, which deceived only musically—emotionally it was completely understood.
Works of this calibre are few and far between in recent concert life. Here’s to many more performances and a permanent place in both the liturgical and choral repertoire for this Magnificat.
The program began with selections from Britten’s Ceremony of Carols. “This Little Babe” was the best of the bunch. Given that the women out-numbered the men 2 to 1, the overall balance remained top heavy.
Giesbrecht was heard to good effect in the Mendelssohn filler, If With All Your Hearts.
Before intermission, Richard Cunningham and The Renaissance Singers offered a trio of works that demonstrated excellent colouring (Lux Aeterna), a courageous soprano soloist (Jane Houlding) well-supported by intriguing “buzz” of the basses (O Magnum Mysterium), and an incredible pianissimo, committed to the last breath, which made As One Who Has Slept truly memorable. JWR