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Vancouver, U.S. choirs make beautiful music together

The Vancouver Sun

by Lloyd Dykk

In a gesture of friendship, the Vancouver Chamber Choir invited Choral Arts Northwest, their neighbour choir across the American border, to sing with them at the Chan on Friday. As VCC soprano and general manager Violet Goosen said a few days before the concert, the program had been changed somewhat from the one planned months ago. Suddenly, the idea of singing upbeat material seemed not the best idea. A gesture of friendship in hard times may be the truest one. When they sang together, the 30-voice choir from Seattle/Tacoma and the 20-member VCC certainly sounded as though they were friends. They also sang separately, the former under their director Richard Sparks and the latter under theirs, Jon Washburn.

The program was a prevailingly dark one, serious and somber, beginning with two motets on mortality, the first Der Geist hilft, by J.S. Bach and the second by Brahms, whose Warum is das Licht gegeben was inspired by the gravity of his model- Bach. Both are brief and potent and often technically difficult, the counterpoint of the Bach requiring clarity plus accuracy from the high-lying soprano part, and the Brahms full of taxingly chromatic writing. Each came off splendidly. But the simple beauty and directness of Pablo Casals’ lamenting O vos omnes seemed to touch people even more deeply.

The VCC sang Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer’s Allelulia, whose entire text is just the lone word of the title, staggered like wingbeats over a hummed pedal point and suggesting an image of Giotto’s tiny golden angels tumbling in the air. The highly accomplished American choir sang pieces by William Harris and John Rutter, which were full of dense, rarefied chords and call for the utmost control, balance and focus, which they received.

The neglected English composer Herbert Howells (whose neglect was partly his own fault: hypersensitive to criticism, he either stopped writing for a decade or refused publication until after his death in 1983) was represented by his Requiem for his only son, Michael, who died in 1936 at age nine from spinal meningitis. Though his son’s death tortured him all his life, he was somehow able to write this exquisitely solacing Requiem, a lullaby for the living, a gentle drift that wanders into a suggestion of English folksong.

It was beautifully performed by the joined choirs, their utter relaxation in the music admitting deceptively subtle, intense climaxes.

Mon Oct 22, 2001