Concert review: Toronto Consort presents wonderful evening of remarkable works from the early Baroque period in Germany
From Braetorius to Bach: Visions of Darkness and Light
Trinity-St. Paul's Centre, 427 Bloor St. W.
Heard March 5. Repeats March 6 (416-964-6337)
We're so surrounded by change and a quest for novelty in our 21st century lives that it's too easy to overlook the great "aha" moments of the past.
Last night's performance by the Toronto Consort added a "wow" to one of the big "aha" moments in musical history: the Renaissance-to-Baroque transition from polyphony to counterpoint. J.S. Bach (1685-1750) was not an instigator, but a magically talented product. The real heroes came a century before.
In Germany, the big names that have come down to us are Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672), Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630) and Michael Praetorius (1571-1621).
Toronto Consort artistic director David Fallis rounded up a programme that laid out some of their finest sacred work, much of it showing skill as well as daring that might make later masters blush. Fallis then assembled 24 singers and period instrumentalists (many borrowed from Tafelmusik) to present gorgeously crafted performances at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre last night.
The whole evening felt and sounded like the carefully chosen artist's portfolio culled and pared down to the essentials of what makes these compositions remarkable. In the case of this programme, the most notable characteristic is how each composer finds new means to enhance the drama of a Biblical text with direct application of consonance and dissonance.
Rather than keeping these historical treasures shrouded in thick glass, Fallis took them out for an energetic airing, carefully shaping and highlighting the music and its complex architecture. The instrumental work, which included two gorgeous Pavanes by Schein, undulated sensuously. Vocal lines waxed and waned inside complex textures.
One of the most striking -- and touching -- examples was Schein's setting of "Ist nicht Ephraim mein teurer Sohn?" (Is Ephraim not my dear son?), where Ephraim's maudlin rocking is mirrored in the voices and instruments in odd intervals that sound like they came out of the late 20th century.
We also heard how five composers (including J.S. Bach) treated the stern melody to the Lutheran hymn "Christ lag in Todesbanden" (Christ lies in death's grip).
One the whole, this was one of those richly constituted, impeccably executed concerts that reminded me of what the hackneyed term "surprise and delight" really means.
In case you're not sure what this music sounds like, here is Schein's "Ich ruf zu dir," a motet for soprano duo: