Choral group makes its impressive debut

Kenneth Delong For The Calgary Herald
Tuesday, November 13, 2012

CPO Festival of Songs of War and Peace
Luminous Voices

Cathedral Church of the Redeemer

Although he has been in Calgary a relatively short time, Timothy Shantz has emerged as the most potent force in choral music in the city. Only three days ago he played a major role in the CPO's current Songs of War and Peace Festival as the choirmaster of the CPO's Philharmonic Chorus in Jeffrey Ryan's new hour-long choral/orchestral work Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation, and in a couple of weeks he will lead the Spiritus Chamber Choir - one of Calgary's best amateur choirs - in a concert for the Christmas season.

This concert, however, was particularly noteworthy: the debut performance of a new professional choir called Luminous Voices.

Calgary has long had its full share of choral ensembles, but until recently the city has not, it must be confessed, been able to hear choral music to the standard enjoyed in cities of comparable size in the country.

With the CPO Chorus now flourishing (under Shantz's leadership), and with the formation of Luminous Voices, Calgary is now emerging as important place for choral music in the country. Calgary certainly has its full share of fine singers, many of whom are heard regularly in local performances as soloists in choral and operatic outings. Drawing upon many such singers, Shantz has formed a 25-voice choir, one that is strengthened by choristers from other parts of Alberta, as well as the United States. The result is a choir that is remarkably well balanced, effortless in its projection of a tight choral sound, and delivers the virtuosity and brilliance possible when the choristers are excellent and the direction is imaginative and musical.

Consistent with the theme of the concert - There Will be Rest - much of the music was meditative in character, reflecting upon themes of peace and rest. One work that wasn't, however, was the opening Curse Upon Iron, a composition by the Finnish composer Viljo Tormis, with a text from the Finnish epic the Kalavala. Featuring, powerful choral dissonances, dramatic outpourings, solos, and visually dramatized, this was a striking way to open a concert, demonstrating in a single work the outstanding abilities of the choir - not the least of which was their handling of the sung Finnish text.

The program also included the famous Miserere by Allegri, which was hauntingly beautiful, with an expert group of soloists in the semi-choral parts sung offstage. Many of the works were modern choral pieces in a style now typical of the English-language choral scene internationally. Notable here was the setting of When David Heard by Eric Whitacre, one of the most successful and familiar of modern choral composers. This particular work was remarkable for its beautifully expressive (and beautifully sung) dissonant chords and expression of the text. In a similar, if slightly softer vein, the audience also heard Frank Ticheli's strikingly beautiful There Will be Rest, happily repeated as the encore, as well as similar pieces by Barber, Willan, and Rutter.

The choir clearly enjoyed these works, as well it might, since they feature all the things the group does exceptionally well: precise tuning, beauty of tone, and a flexible mode of interpretation based upon making the texts vivid and alive. Few musical experiences are more beautiful than a choir that sings as well as this one.

The program also included the well-known setting of When David Heard by Thomas Tomkins, and it concluded with a stirring account of the Dona Nobis Pacem from Bach's Mass in B minor, with fine support on the organ from Tim Pyper, the organist at the Cathedral.

In sum, this was an impressive choral evening and equally impressive debut for a new professional choral ensemble for the city. One can only wish Shantz and his choir the best of luck, with the hope that the promise of this evening will be realized as the future unfolds.

© Calgary Herald 2012