Calgary choral group Luminous Voices soaring to new heights

Kenneth Delong for The Calgary Herald
January 20, 2014

With several successful concerts now under its belt, Luminous Voices, Calgary's first professional choir, seems to have found its legs and is now beginning to explore different corners of the choral repertoire. From the previous concert, devoted to classic-period works, the choir on this occasion turned its attention to the great tradition of Renaissance choral music, its Sunday evening concert at the Anglican cathedral devoted to masterpieces of English choral music.

In the popular imagination, Elizabethan vocal music is often associated with madrigals of the fa la la type. But there is another, earlier phase of English music: music for the church, austere, disciplined, and rapturous—the perfect music for voices that are, well, luminous. It was music from this earlier period, spanning the last years of Henry VIII, the Catholic restoration of Queen Mary, and the early years of Elizabeth's reign that was featured on the program, a concert that climaxed in one of the most famous pieces of its era, the 40-voice motet "Spem in Alium" by Thomas Tallis.

With its eight five-voiced choirs spread throughout the cathedral, the sound gave a whole new meaning to the phrase "a splendid noise." In the warm acoustic of the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer, the music floated to the ceiling and seeped into every corner of the building, the overlapping of the parts and the occasional passages where everyone sings together an amazing experience in the magnificence of sheer choral sound.

Here the blended voices of the choral ensemble produced a rapturous sound that induced one to contemplate the mysteries of the divine. With pure-toned treble voices and warm bass support, the musical canvas billowed with waves of sweet-toned singing, transporting the listener to ethereal worlds. Happily, in response to the generous applause and the loud shouts of "encore," Timothy Shantz and his singers did indeed sing the work a second time, this time with the singers rotated by 180 degrees. It was as beautiful as the first time, with the added benefit of another perspective on the work by the moving of the singers.

Works from the same era and with similar musical values completed the evening. The first was by John Taverner (the first composer with this name, not the one who died last year), his extended "Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas". This was, vocally speaking the most challenging work on the program, with soaring high lines for the sopranos and dark, gravelly bass parts. Tremendously difficult to sing well, the choir performed it remarkably well, although one more true bass would have rendered the choral balance more effective.

The choir was vocally on more comfortable ground in John Sheppard's "Western Wynde Mass", a very attractive work that in purely performance terms was the highlight of the evening.

In general, the choir under Shantz's leadership sang superbly, with secure intonation, an excellent blend and a fine understanding of the musical style. Many of the singers are veterans of other early music groups, and the challenges of singing early music were taken easily and in stride. On this occasion kudos must go to the sopranos and tenors, who were particularly outstanding, producing ravishingly beautiful tones to soothe the soul.

The next concert in this series is in June and will be devoted to German choral music by J.S. Bach, Handel, and Mendelssohn. It should not be missed.

© Calgary Herald 2014