Review by Hugh Fraser
The Brott Summer Festival came to an end spanning life from the sacred to the profane Thursday night in Mohawk College’s McIntyre Centre for the Arts.
That we went from the Chorale to the Bacchanalia, as it were, is probably fitting as that is probably how our own finale will be played out in reality.
Leonard Bernstein’s masterpiece Chichester Psalms is obviously Holy Writ to Brott. In the program he paid tribute to his years as Bernstein’s assistant conductor at the New York Philharmonic and the “mitzvah” of almost missionary significance he had performing Bernstein’s Mass at the Vatican.
Interestingly, both the sacred and profane of the evening start in a very similar manner.
A choral eruption followed by poly rhythmic percussion and jagged musical lines.
What is amazing is the completely different musical messages sent by the same language.
The Psalms are a profound spiritual dedication, a wish, a hope, expressed with the utmost reverence and exquisite style.
Brott had both choir and orchestra immersed in the musical message and everything from the enthralling singing of soprano Leslie Fagan to the lambent cello of mentor/once alumna of the Academy Rachel Desoer ached with hope and beauty.
The work is too short. The audience rose only reluctantly to take the intermission, slow to wish the spell to dissipate and return to the everyday.
Never mind, the ruckus was yet to come. The sublime would be followed by the ridiculous (how else can you describe an aria by a roasting swan?) and all would be well.
Carl Orff’s ever popular Carmina Burana that so wonderfully limns the age we live in, an age that mocks reverence and resents responsibility as never before. A collection of poems by defrocked priests and monks set to savage music to intoxicate the celebrants.
Once again, choral explosion followed a rhythmic riot and once again the Academy Orchestra and Stephane Potvin’s Brott Festival Chorus (the Arcady singers reenforced by many a fine singer) were brilliant.
Repetition, however, has many musical pitfalls, particularly if it is repetition of very basic musical material. Apprentice conductor Janna Sailor, who has impressed me greatly in earlier concerts, took the first part of the Carmina under her baton and keeping the repetition taught and interesting escaped her. It isn’t easy. It is like riding a horse which must be “collected” – on the bit, or restrained in the front and yet impelled from behind by those massive haunches. Instead the music sagged in the middle and rambled off. It is as hard in the saddle as it is on the podium but intensity is everything.
Brott is a master at maintaining intensity and particularly rhythmic excitement and no such flabbiness was allowed by him in what was a riveting performance of the second part.
A tenor from the choir, if I am not mistaken, took the first tenor solo very commendably but Bud Roach did get his feathers burned as the roasting swan. I have heard this aria sung full voiced throughout but Roach chose to crack and whine into the falsetto which is a very plausible interpretation. It is just what I would do if I was being roasted. Roach was in a business suit, which I was informed by the cognoscenti is merely the latest in tuxedos and wearing an everyday tie, which I am sure is the cutting edge in black bow ties. His outfit tempted me to call this a semi-staged Carmina set in the Royal Bank. Very well acted though.
Once again Fagan ravished (while seeking ravishment) in the most languid and sumptuous of legatos and in what I like to call the “Queen of the Night” coloratura passages of Carmina she was simply dynamic.
Baritone Cairan Ryan has a voice of amazing range and subtlety which I enjoyed greatly.
An absolutely predictably ecstatic standing ovation greeted the final wallop of a very satisfying performance.
But real sadness followed at once.
It has been an immense pleasure and privilege to have had this wonderful orchestra to inspire us this season.