Sunday, 24 November 2013

Telemann Ensemble

Mass in B minor concert doesn’t quite arrive


reviewed by Nancy Snipper


One could focus on the messy parts and moments where things fell flat during the performance of the Telemann ensemble’s magisterial Mass in B minor by Bach, and as a critic I shall point out the flawed concert, but right now I will give high praise to the 20-member choir and instrumental musicians (I spotted two members from Arion Quartet) who brought forth some glorious sounds for the audience to savour  as the eager listeners sat poised in the pews of Montreal’s noble Christ-Church Cathedral, Saturday November 23 2013. 
The 27 songs that comprise this Mass featured moments of great solemnity, such as in the Patrem omnipotentem (song #14) and the Confiter (#20) – both magnificently rendered by the choir. Greatest effects happened during the Mass’s vivace creations. The six songs preceding the final Doman nobis pacem – itself a rather sombre song that had its final flash in the last few measures – were outstanding. Indeed the choir led by the ensemble’s full-time conductor, Rafik Matta – a brilliant scholar who is also a jazz specialist and violinist – frequently kept things together – but not all the time. 
Indeed, despite the stunning singing of the choir and those high spirited moments of playing, the overall concert was lacklustre. There did not seem to be an exciting connection between the musicians and conductor – who himself appeared tired. Moreover, the Quoniam tu solas sanctus – sung by bass-baritone Pierre-Étienne Bergeron was an embarrassment for the French horn player. Wrong notes introduced the opening, and all throughout, there were messy notes that left Mr. Bergeron out on a limb with this song. Still, he did a fine job, and his voice is one to remember. The following Cum Sancto spiritu made up for this sonic snag as it was inspirational. In fact, all those songs that featured the choir were heaven-sent. 
The two soloists, soprano, Pascale Beaudin and mezzo-soprano, Claudine Ledoux were positioned off to the side for their vocal delivery -as were the males (tenor Philippe Gagné overcame that with his sweet voice). Such an arrangement did not make then stand out at all; worse still, it did not bring a collective cohesion. Ms. Ledouz has a fine voice, but Beaudin who never once looked up from her libretto to connect with the audience was not inspiring. Her voice has too much vibrato, but her high notes were lovely and clear. 
One major fault of the entire production was the lack of accented phrasal openings in voice and instrument. Too many missed occasions created dullness and that dampened the more dazzling moments that suddenly popped up. 
I have heard this work and it is an exultant musical masterpiece. Albeit, several moments during the performance strived for this, but clearly, not everyone was on the same page – so to speak. Not enough commitment to this prodigious production was given in order to make the Mass entirely magnificent, and it should be just that – gloriously moving every step of the way.