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The Unknown Soldier performance solid, engaging
Seventeen Voyces mark 90th anniversary of Vimy Ridge

Richard Todd, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Monday, January 29, 2007

April of this year will mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. This was one of the most decisive battles of the First World War and possibly the most telling moment in Canada's emergence as a world power. The cost of victory was high, however: more than 10,000 Canadian casualties, including 3,598 dead.

Yesterday afternoon in St. Matthew's Church, Kevin Reeves and his Seventeen Voyces commemorated the occasion with Andrew Ager's The Unknown Soldier. The same forces gave the premiere performance in November 2004. Interestingly, Reeves and Ager each had a grandfather present at Vimy Ridge.

The piece, a kind of cantata, is in four movements, the first and last based on verse by John Masefield and Walt Whitman. The second, entitled Battle's Grim Dormitory, is a setting of a text by an anonymous Canadian soldier from the "Great War," while the third is an instrumental pastorale.

In most respects the performance was worthy, though it could have done with more lyrical sweep, especially in the first movement. Soprano Judith Vachon and bass Gary Dahl did well with the solo parts. The second movement, the soldier's poem, is scored for low voices, viola and cello only. Dahl's work with the tenors and basses was especially effective there.

The instrumental ensemble, consisting of a string quartet and harp, played with real feeling throughout the piece, including the pastorale.

The program opened with two Monteverdi motets, on the subject of death. There were two moments when the intonation seemed to wander slightly, but it was more likely a question of the modality of the compositions being unfamiliar to this listener's ears. In any event, the performances as a whole were solid and engaging.

The other work on the first half of the program was Antonio Caldara's Mass in G minor, an exceptionally concise setting of the text for the composer's time.

Caldara was a contemporary of Vivaldi and thus a near contemporary of Bach and Handel, but his music has an archaic sound compared to those of the more familiar composers.

Once again, conductor Reeves and his singers delivered a pleasing account of the score, with strong solo singing by members of the choir.

An audience of about 200 responded positively to the Baroque offerings, but there's no doubt that most people had come to hear The Unknown Soldier.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2007

Richard Todd



 

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