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Seventeen Voyces gripping as Hunchback soundtrack

Richard Todd, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Hunchback of Notre Dame has been the subject of at least four feature films, a Disney animated feature and a stage musical. But the classic treatment is undoubtedly the 1923 silent film starring Lon Chaney.

Last year the Seventeen Voyces and organist Matthew Larkin presented a wonderful accompaniment to The Passion of Joan of Arc under the direction of conductor-film maker Kevin Reeves. The presentation was a stunning success and drew a large crowd, so Reeves and company were inspired to give the Chaney film the same treatment last night.

St. Mathew's Church was packed. The only unoccupied spaces were in the pews behind the pillars where the screen would have been invisible.

Most people would agree that Hunchback is not in the same league as Joan of Arc, but it is a worthwhile film and lent itself reasonably well to the chorus-and-organ accompaniment.

It's a little hard to imagine a better "soundtrack." Reeves chose a dozen brief pieces by Brahms, Vierne, Poulenc and Taverner, among others. Each was sung at a crucial moment in the drama. In between, organist Larkin kept up a continual commentary, much of it improvised, that underlined the action on screen perfectly.

In fact, it may be Larkin's work that accounted for the continuously gripping sense of drama. Certainly the film itself has a lot of that to offer, but it's also very choppy by modern standards, the acting is broad and on top of it all, the print wasn't very good -- perhaps there are no good prints any more.

Will Reeves and his crew do another silent movie next year? There are dozens that would fit the bill. So we'll wait and see.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2006



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