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Ensemble broadens horizons

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As listeners, we tend to like familiar music -- something we recognize, something predictable. Old favourites are just that: old favourites.

On Sunday night, baroque vocal ensemble Canzona introduced us to the unfamiliar -- and from audience reaction, a work destined to become a new favourite.

The music of Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka, a contemporary of Telemann and J.S. Bach, was nearly forgotten until a resurgence and subsequent republication of his works in the 1960s.

Canzona took a risk on a rarely performed mass, Zelenka's Missa votiva ZWV 18 and we have this to thank for broadening our musical horizons. The work was a breath of fresh air that will have us scouring our local CD store for a recording.

Written as an expression of gratitude to God after the composer recovered from a serious illness, Missa votiva is a substantial, mature work, replete with resonant harmonies and pleasing melodies.

The 13-piece baroque orchestra MusikBarock Ensemble, with artistic director Eric Lussier at the organ, provided crisp and accurate instrumental accompaniment.

It was unfortunate the length of the work necessitated an unusual programming format, splitting the mass into two parts. The Kyrie and Gloria were in the first half of the program, followed by Bach's Cantata BWV 80 - Eine Fest Burg.

The Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei were performed after intermission. This made for a rather jarring transition that took the ears a few minutes to adjust to, but the quality of the performance carried us through.

The entire evening was uplifting, with some truly excellent soloists, rousing choruses and an orchestra that has never sounded better. Conductor Elroy Friesen brought animated phrasing to every passage.

In the Zelenka, soprano Joan Clark gave the Christe eleison a spirited and nimble reading, projecting well. Her vibrato was a little loose for the period but this was still a strong showing. Soprano Sara Clefstad sounded lovely and full in the solo quartet, but Doug Pankratz's tenor cameo sounded strained. Marni Enns' refined soprano floated to the highest notes, while baritone Paul Wiens was nicely understated, possessing a pleasing timbre and flowing phrases. Soprano Sarah Kirsch displayed a gorgeous richness of tone and assured delivery and we heard the promising beginnings of a great bass in Stephen Haiko. Aaron Hutton's lovely tenor exhibited amazing control if not a bit too much force, while the always solid Kirsten Schellenberg lent elegance and colour to her alto solos. Soprano Zohreh Gervais was wonderfully expressive and Kris Kornelsen makes it all seem so easy.

The audience even had a chance to participate. Friesen turned to us to sing along to Bach's Und wenn die welt voll Teufel wär -- and we were good. Only in Winnipeg!

gwenda.nemerofsky@shaw.ca

Concert Review

Canzona

Crescent Fort Rouge United Church

Oct. 28 Attendance: 260

****1/2 out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 29, 2012 D5

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