An emergent choir gives an arousing performance
On November 15, the Société des concerts de Montréal performed a concert featuring challenging works at the Paroisse du Très-Saint-Rédempteur, a Catholic church located in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district. Composer and conductor Pascal Germain-Berardi led this ensemble of 18 singers. Most singers are either music graduates or continuing their musical studies.
This Sunday afternoon concert was literally a tour around the world: Listeners were greeted with music from France, Hungary, Germany, and Russia. We heard repertoire by Josef Rheinberger, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Zoltán Kodály, Olivier Messaien, and Max Reger. No concert is (usually) complete without a tinge of Canadian composers! Two Canadian works were featured, namely Spirits of the Dead and “Gloria,” an excerpt from Messe du Privilège, written respectively written by Maxime Daigneault and Pascal Germain-Berardi.
Most concertgoers are used to a balance of a cappella and accompanied music. If concertgoers were expecting such a mix at this concert, they were out of luck, for all works performed were a cappella. As some of us know, a cappella music poses many challenges. The main challenge is ensuring that pieces begin and end in the same key, something that not all choristers manage to do, especially when works modulate several times in middle sections. Fortunately, the Société des concerts de Montréal singers remained in the same key in all pieces.
Another challenge is striking a balance between blend, melodies, and accompaniments. In all three departments, this choir was a ditto above. It was easy to hear melodies in the sopranos and accompanying harmonies in the three lower voices (the lower voices were sometimes split into two depending on repertoire). In some pieces, melodies passed between one voice and the next. It was easy to hear them because of great blend. No one voice or section buried another.
Since Germain-Berardi featured works from different parts of the world, it was no surprise that singers sang works in English, French, German, Latin, and Russian. With the help of the church’s excellent acoustic, the choir’s diction was clear in all pieces, not to mention excellent.
Many people came to listen to this concert
A few factors either dampened the concert spirit or could have improved it.
For starters, it was hard to hear what Germain-Berardi was saying whenever he introduced pieces or wanted to say words of thanks. Daigneault said a word or two about his work. Neither gentleman had a microphone, and their voices didn’t project to the rear of the church. Then again, was it necessary to introduce each work on the program? Concertgoers received a program when they arrived at the venue; they could have easily followed the concert without introductions. Besides, the program notes were thorough.
To better enjoy the concert, it would have been nice to include texts and translations of each piece. This is something the conductor can consider for future performances.