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Thirteen Strings' candlelight concert engaging;
Popular Christmas event pleases audience as ensemble tries new venue

Richard Todd, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: December 6, 2007

The Thirteen Strings' annual Candlelight Christmas Concert is undoubtedly the little orchestra's most popular offering each season. In fact, for some years they presented the program on two consecutive evenings.

There were two problems with that arrangement: It cost considerably more than putting on a single concert and, although everyone who came could be accommodated, the attendance didn't amount to anything near a pair of full houses.

Last night, however, Thirteen Strings took temporary leave of its regular venue, St. Andrew's, and performed at Dominion-Chalmers Church, which has nearly double the capacity. It wasn't sold out, but attendance was considerable.

Conductor Robert Cooper opened the program with Swedish Baroque composer Johan Helmich Roman's Sinfonia in A. If this isn't Christmas-specific music, it has the right feel to it and received a pleasing performance.

The same comments apply to the second offering, Grieg's lovely At the Cradle.

The playing was solid and satisfying in both offerings, much what we've come to expect from the orchestra in recent years.

Otto Olsson's Te Deum is scored for mixed chorus (Kevin Reeves's Seventeen Voyces in this case), strings, harp and organ. Cooper gave a talk before last night's performance. Although it was somewhat informative, it went on too long and was not entirely necessary.

The work is the quintessence of approachability. Harmonically, it doesn't contain much that would have taken Brahms aback, or even Schubert; and it is unceasingly melodious.

And it's a strong piece, full of joy, not a masterwork by any means, but definitely worth hearing.

For the most part the performance was spirited and engaging. The Voyces sang with great aplomb with fine ensemble, blend, balance and all that good stuff. The only problem was that in the Miserere the pulse of the music was sometimes hard to feel.

Still, it was a convincing rendition of a work that must have been new to all concerned except, presumably, the conductor.

Aside from some sing-along carols at the very end, the rest of the program was given to Ralph Vaughan Williams's Nativity play, The First Nowell, narrated by Tina Fedeski and Rob Clipperton and featuring soprano Chelsea Honeyman (who sang the part of the Angel angelically) and bass Gary Dahl.

The musical part of the play is made up largely of Christmas carol arrangements, and the performance was spirited and engaging.

Richard Todd




A Purcell Celebration

Thirteen Strings Candlelight Celebration

Peter Pan

The Phantom of the Opera

The Unknown Soldier

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

An Authentic Messiah