Review: Menno Singers

In today’s Waterloo Record

Thanks to Milos Forman’s wildly popular 1984 film Amadeus, it is almost impossible to imagine anything else while hearing the opening sighs of Mozart’s Requiem K626.

Saturday evening at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Kitchener, the Menno Singers scored a result with the Requiem and Mozart’s Vespers Solennes de Confessore K339.

The church was full, a welcome sight for any concert, but given the recent financial wobbles of many area arts groups it was especially heartening.

In the 21st century, liturgical music (particularly Requiem masses) are more often heard in concert. Indeed, it would difficult to imagine a full Romantic orchestra turning up to a church for a funeral service incorporating Verdi’s ferocious setting.

Because of its roots as working music, the score can sometimes seems strangely paced. In a church service, it is logical to have big finishes before the sermon, The Lord’s prayer and The Creed. These same flourishes seem like a big to do over nothing in concert.

The Menno Singers were clearly happy to be giving a concert and although pitch sagged a little when the notes wandered above the staff, the Menno Singers make a good, full sound that is pleasant to listen to. Director Peter Nikiforuk shapes phrases intelligently and took advantage of the choir’s full dynamic range.

A mismatch of soloists marred the evening significantly. The quartet consisted of Bethany Horst (soprano), Margaret Holton (mezzo-soprano) Christopher Fischer (tenor) and Kevin Bradshaw (bass). Horst, a regional finalist in the 2008 and 2009 Metropolitan Opera National Auditions was head and shoulders above the others in all instances.

Her colleagues were handicapped somewhat by their placement to the left of the choir. Bradshaw had the worst of it but still managed to project well despite the concrete pillar in front of him. From my balcony seat, Holton was practically inaudible even in solo sections while Fischer was heard only in the high register.

For the quartet, the most successful movement was the Benedictus, which featured a lovely passage with Horst and Holton singing in thirds grounded by Bradshaw’s warm bass.

The small orchestra, made up of moonlighting K-W Symphony and Nota Bene Period Orchestra players, was in fine form. The wind players were especially strong with second trombone Cathy Stone making short work of a very exposed solo in the Tuba mirum.

Vespers, or Evensong as it is known in Anglican circles, is the service sung in the evening. It is for the most part an archaic service that is heard daily only in cathedrals. The liturgy consists of hymns and prayers inserted between a series of Psalm settings with the goal of encouraging reflection and mediation.

Although easy on the ears, Mozart’s setting of the Vespers is not his best work and if it wasn’t for the sublime Laudate Dominum (Psalm 116) the setting would likely be forgotten completely. The Laudate is scored for soprano and choir and from the opening bars, it was a little slice of heaven. The choir was magnificent and Horst in her element, delivering a stunning performance that will be remembered for quite some time.

Next concerts

Menno Singers

Vesper Hymn Sing, Sunday, April 5, at 7 p.m. at Breslau Mennonite Church

Hopefulness: A Benefit Concert for ALS, Saturday, May 2, at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, Kitchener, at 8 p.m., Sunday, May 3 at St. Paul’s United Church, Paris, at 7 p.m.

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