This is the ninth recording by Noel Edison and his Elora Festival
Singers for Naxos. Excepting their Christmas album, each recording
has focused on a particular composer, and each CD has rightly
met with considerable critical acclaim. This recording is the
first to feature the works of several Canadian composers, all
of the music written in the last few decades. Many of the works
were written for, or premiered by, this choir.
The CD opens with a setting of the Gloria by Timothy
Corlis. The choir’s opening fortissimo chord is impressively
projected, but the music quickly winds down to a more tentative,
gentler mood. Soon a piano enters with driving ostinato figures
that inject greater energy and movement into the vocal writing.
Switching between Latin and English, the music alternates between
active and static, finally building to a sustained climax at
5:30 as the choir sings “Alleluia,” a word that
is not part of the traditional Gloria text.
The slowly shifting cluster chords of I Saw Eternity
are reminiscent of Eric Whitacre’s music, and the choir
sings it with rapt intensity. This style of music requires,
and here receives, spotless intonation. After these two weightier
works, Tiefenbach’s Nunc Dimittis is touchingly
simple, with choral lines lying within a narrow range until
the word “light,” where the voices suddenly divide
into a widely spaced chord, a perfect setting of the word, beautifully
realized in this performance.
Henderson’s Missa Brevis features more concentrated
chromaticism and rhythmic complexity, as does Galbraith’s
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. Towards the end of
the motet, Galbraith introduces subtle echoes of “Picardy,”
the hymn tune usually wed to this text. This leads to a thrilling
climax with the word “Alleluia”, as the hymn tune
is finally heard in full.
Suffice to say that these 13 selections on this CD provide a
generous sampling of the variety of compositional styles found
in contemporary Canadian choral music. The Elora Festival Singers
inhabit each style fully and with apparent ease. Their singing
is consistently beautiful, the sections well balanced, with
unified ensemble singing and crisp diction. In several of the
works, sopranos and tenors are asked to sing in a high tessitura,
yet they never sound strained or overly bright. And in Bless
the Lord for the Good Land, the basses display an impressive
low range that would be the envy of many Russian choirs. While
the instrumentalist’s contribution is minimal, their playing
is as excellent and as sensitive as the singing.
The recording itself is well engineered, capturing the choir
in a warm ambiance that nevertheless allows for textual clarity.
Noel Edison obviously believes in this music and he elicits
interpretations of passion and refinement in equal measure.
This is well-crafted and profound music that is performed with
great conviction and beauty.
David A. McConnell