CPO-backed choirs deliver polished performance

Published on: May 11, 2018

As an organization, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra is principally dedicated to the furthering of orchestral music in Calgary. However, as an adjunct to its activities, it maintains a large amateur chorus so that the orchestra can perform the masterpieces of the choral literature, works normally requiring a full orchestra.

With conductor Timothy Shantz as the leader of choral activities for the CPO Chorus, this element of the CPO’s wider activities has been considerably strengthened, and Calgarians now are able to attend professional-grade performances of works that, for a long time, were little performed in the city. But Shantz has other activities in his bag of choral tricks, notably serving as conductor of Calgary’s first professional choir: Luminous Voices.

Wednesday’s concert combined these choirs in a program that featured Faure’s Requiem and which was fleshed out with a collection of smaller pieces from the rich, modern English choral repertoire. For lovers of choral music — apparently many people, given the healthy size of the audience — this concert was a special treat. And it was all conducted by Shantz with his customary command and polish.

Instead of having the orchestra as the instrumental support, the concert included CPO organist Neil Cockburn, who also serves as the music director for the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer. Playing the Jack Singer Hall’s marvellous Carthy organ, Cockburn was a central figure in the event, accompanying the combined choirs in Benjamin Britten’s Te Deum in C, William Walton’s The Twelve, Jonathan Dove’s Bless the Lord, O My Soul, and, of course, in John Rutter’s version of Fauré’s Requiem — the version with organ accompaniment.

Although this was a one-off concert, given its artistic success and the level of audience support, one can only hope the experiment will be repeated.
— Kenneth Delong, Calgary Herald

All these works require an organist of considerable capabilities, not only for the difficulty of the work, but also for the knowledge of how to properly register (select the organ stops) to create the right sound world appropriate to these very different pieces. Here, as in many previous instances, Cockburn showed his skill as the city’s premier organist, the Fauré Requiem filled with the subtlest shadings, and the English cathedral sound in the other works presented in a splashy and vivid fashion.

Of course, the two choirs were the central element in the concert, performing together, but with some works performed just by Luminous Voices. To dyed-in-the-wool high Anglicans, the works on the first half were relatively familiar, being largely drawn from vast repertory of modern English church music. Rarely heard in a concert context, it was thrilling to hear these choral favourites sung by a large choir with the vocal capacities of this ensemble.

I especially enjoyed the opening work, Britten’s Te Deum in C, familiar to me from many outings in church, as well as Dove’s Bless the Lord, O my Soul, one of the composer’s best-known and most attractive works. But it was also a pleasure to hear Britten’s less-heard Hymn to St. Cecilia, as well as Walton’s even less familiar The Twelve. In these and the other works, members of the chorus stepped up to the plate to deliver accurate, nicely shaped accounts of the many solo passages, an indication of the vocal depth of the ensemble. And the choral singing was beautifully in tune, even in the hardest passages, and thrilling in the climaxes.

The moment everyone was waiting for was, of course, the Fauré Requiem. One of the most melodious and richly expressive choral works of the great tradition, it made the impact expected, especially in the beauty and assurance of the choral singing.

The solo movements were sung by soprano Hannah Pagenkopf and Nicholas Allen, both members of Luminous Voices. Both these singers are young and have youthful voices, but they were fully equal to the challenge of their parts, especially Pagenkopf who is quite evidently making the transition from “promising young singer” to “seasoned professional.” Pagenkopf’s light, ethereal soprano was perfect for this most heavenly moment in the score.

Although this was a one-off concert, given its artistic success and the level of audience support, one can only hope the experiment will be repeated. There are still more great works for a choir of this ability with organ accompaniment.