« Time, space slip away in Lionheart's warm sound | Main | Alley Cats open for Jay Leno »

April 16, 2007

Elektra Choir's sold-out concert daring . . . and lovely

Vancouver Sun (Canada)

The Elektra Women's Choir is now 20 years old and marked the occasion with a sold-out concert on Saturday at Christ Church Cathedral. Deceptively, they still seem like a new addition to the scene, despite two active decades, and the rumours that the choir probably wouldn't last because it has two artistic directors -- Diane Loomer and Morna Edmundson, who share in conducting -- have been proven wrong in a big way. They seem to get along just fine and if there have been any schisms in the choir, you wouldn't know.

The concentration has always been new works, commissioned by the choir -- some 40 in its history. It would have been an easy thing to trot out standards for this concert but they bravely had two new ones: one by Ramona Luengen, who is a former member of Elektra but branched out about a decade ago with her own fine group, the Phoenix Chamber Choir, and Jeffrey Ryan, who until recently was composer-in-residence with the Vancouver Symphony.

Out of a varied, festive and longish program, I thought Luengen's piece, Assumpta est Maria, was the best, a setting of Rainer Maria Rilke's poem from Das Marienleben (The Life of Mary). It is the death of Mary, who ascends to heaven and is forlorn at the sight of the long-vacant seat next to Jesus. In just a few lines, Rilke compresses the inexpressible sadness and mystery of mortality, and its beauty.

A serious and expressive composer, Luengen scales the poem's arc powerfully, placing Forst's deep mezzo tones beautifully in a nimbus-like choral part. It felt true to the magic of Rilke. I also liked Gyorgy Orban's Mass No. 9 with its bracing Poulenc-like odour of secularity, and the spirit that the choir, and Smith on the piano, brought to it was a good argument for the piece. Arch seems about the only word for Ryan's Elegy for Miss Covington, a jokey piece that wasn't very funny but full of modernist choral technicalities. I didn't get the point of it.

The 40 singers of Elektra were joined by another approximate 60 from the audience, all alumnae of the choir who were asked to join the present members on stage for the last three numbers, which tended to be light. From the sound of their singing, and the increased amplitude, these women have kept their voices in shape. It was lovely.

Posted by acapnews at April 16, 2007 9:59 PM