by Penelope Johnson
Three dozen voices, light, sprightly and well-tuned, swept through an astonishingly varied repertoire at the Venables Theatre last Friday evening. The Capilano University Singers, tightly controlled by their conductor Lars Kaario, impressed the large audience with their range from the Baroque and classical composers, to Afro-American and South African folksong, 21st century compositions, and new Canadian music. The concert was the third presentation in the South Okanagan Concert Society series of four.
The Singers’ first impression, walking confidently onstage in formal attire, was marred by a shaky performance of famous choruses from Handel’s Messiah. Kaario chose a quick tempo, in keeping with the original baroque style, which suited these youthful, energetic voices. Much like the sheep in “All We Like Sheep” the singers were remarkably sure-footed through the lightning-quick arpeggios. The sopranos and tenors especially showed great facility. Unfortunately, the pace often left the piano accompaniment floundering to keep up, resulting in a few faltering starts.
A more robust sound for Messiah would have been welcome. These music students are commended for tackling such important repertoire, but the resulting sound was light and thin. The choir may have fared better had Kaario, as well as two student conductors, slowed the tempo enough to afford the singers opportunity to develop a rich chest sound.
Worthy of note was a promising young counter-tenor soloist, Gary Sun. What a treat to hear a live performance of this relatively rare voice type. His breath control and diction struggled under the quick tempo, but his fluid tone and animated expression more than made up for it.
Sun’s emotive performance was perhaps the most deserving of applause in Messiah. Sadly, Kaario instructed the audience to refrain from clapping until the final “Amen”. While this would be common practice for the full oratorio, it could have been modified to allow audience appreciation to be given where it was deserved. Bravo, Mr. Sun.
The concert’s second half, a varied repertoire of mostly modern choral compositions, was a dramatic improvement. Here, the Singers’ light voices were better suited to the material. The rapid tempo of “An Elizabethan Spring” was entirely appropriate, with the tricky triplets in the final measures absolutely perfect. Conductor Kaario and his attentive choir showed complete mastery here. The following “Sleep” could have been sung at a more lulling tempo, to caress the dissonant chords. A lovely jewel of close harmony was “Ave verum corpus” by young BC composer Ian Cox. Good dynamics in “Let My Love Be Heard” demonstrated the Singers are capable of greater volume and colouring.
The audience delighted in a refreshing interlude of musical selections by choir members. These young performers showed remarkable poise in engaging with the audience. Pianist Daniel Nguyen excelled on Chopin’s Aeolian Harp Etude. The sonata trio and four-part madrigal were equally enchanting. Receiving the most applause was a bluesy trio on “Love Gone Wrong” by You+Me. Their funky groove set the stage for the choir’s lively, final selections.
The Capilano University Singers kicked it up several notches with the spiritual “John Saw duh Numbah”. Their percussive consonants made for an energetic, exciting piece. Saving the best for last, the Singers let loose with the South African “Emjanleni / Yeleyele” accompanied by djembe drum, rhythmic foot stomping and clapping, and ululating women’s voices. These rousing numbers brought the audience to its feet with the most enthusiastic applause of the evening.
The South Okanagan Concert Series concludes on Friday March 18 with a blend of classical and jazz music from the Wolak / Donnelly Duo. Their instruments? Clarinet, piano, and oodles of charm. Keep your fingers crossed that “Bach with Spoons” is in their programme for the evening! Join the crowd at 7:30 p.m. at the Frank Venables Theatre. Single tickets are $20, and four for $75, available at Beyond Bliss and Imperial Office Pro. Students 17 and under free. Early bird tickets for the 2016/7 concert season will be available at the concert.