The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra went for baroque Tuesday night while offering an entire program of lesser-known, 17th- and 18th-century instrumental and choral music.
The Christmas-themed evening led by guest conductor David Fallis featured local baroque choral ensemble Canzona (Henry Engbrecht, founding artistic director), celebrating its 25th anniversary. The acclaimed maestro, who marked his first time on the MCO podium, is music director for Toronto's Opera Atelier, and also serves on faculty with the University of Toronto.
Often concerts have behind-the-scenes programming stories and this one -- in the spirit of the season -- related to gift-giving. After early music specialist and founder of Winnipeg's MusicBarock Ensemble Eric Lussier donated his entire, 30-year old music library to the MCO, he was, in turn, offered the chance to curate a program derived from those very scores.
Following a sprightly opening Concerto Grosso in C Major, Op. 3 No. 12 by Italian composer Francesco Onofrio Manfredini, the audience of 828 was treated to Marc-Antoine Charpentier's No´ls pour les Instruments. Comprised of 10 "no´ls" or instrumental settings of 17th-century French carols, the compact suite sparkles as brightly as a festive bauble. Concertino players, MCO concertmaster Karl Stobbe, principal second violin Barbara Gilroy and principal cello Alex Adaman provided textural colour and dynamic contrast against the larger ripieno group, with flutists Laura MacDougall and Laurel Ridd adding their own buoyant levity. Only a few times did the cello overshadow the quieter violins, particularly during the work's more expressive movements, including Or nous dites, Marie.
The second half of the concert featured Canzona performing Bohemian-born composer Jan Dismas Zelenka's Te Deum in D Major, ZWV 145, impeccably prepared by Engbrecht. Composed in 1724 and based on a Latin liturgical text, the two-part sacred work is comprised of 14 short choruses, arias and a duet, as well as a dramatic Gregorian intonation of Salvus fac performed with great solemnity by the 18-voice ensemble's men.
Tenor Jan van der Hooft displayed legato phrasing and clear dictio during the first solo Te gloriosus Apostotlorum, later followed by baritone Kris Kornelsen, who easily handled his widely leaping vocal line during his Dignare Domine II. Duet Per singulos dies, sung by the wonderfully communicative soprano Sarah Kirsch, also featured mezzo-soprano Victoria Marshall, ably filling in for popular soloist Kirsten Schellenberg, who is recovering from laryngitis.
The program also included Corelli's Concerto Grosso in G Minor, Op., 6 No. 8 "Per la Notte di Natale' with its gentle pastoral ending evoking shepherds abiding in fields, as well as Locatelli's more vigorous Introduttiono Teatralo in G Major, Op. 4, No. 4.
There's a real appetite for early music in this city. As countless choirs are filling the air with jubilant seasonal carols, the orchestra also had its own chance to add their instrumental voices to the celebrations, deserving the standing ovation it received