Thursday, December 22, 2011


Reviewed by James Karas

Review a Christmas concert?

Children with shining faces and intense attention to the conductor singing “Silent Night”, a choir, joined by an enthusiastic if somewhat cacophonous audience, intoning the Hallelujah Chorus – that’s a Christmas Concert and you don’t review that. You just enjoy it.

The event at the Metropolitan United Church in Toronto was not called a Christmas Concert but a Yuletide Celebration and there was a wide variety of musical offerings from opera to Greek songs. That gives an opening for comment. The Hannaford Street Silver Band, mezzo-soprano Ariana Chris, The Canadian Children’s Opera Company Youth and Principal Choruses performed and with that kind of array you have carte blanche to praise and even criticize without being assigned to a particularly hot cauldron for your eternal residence.

With a group like The Hannaford Street Silver Band you are guaranteed some powerful accompaniment and solo pieces. The most interesting piece was a cornet solo by Marcus Venables which was played by his father Robert Venables. “Eternal Life” demands some intricate playing that was done well. David Briskin conducted with assurance and enthusiasm.

The Hannaford Band performed several pieces ranging from robust Fanfares to more lyrical pieces. It also accompanied most of the choral and solo singing.

The Principal and Youth Choruses under the firm hand of conductor Ann Cooper Gay sounded wonderful in the high vaulted church, the perfect setting for Christmas carols. There were times when I wished they were accompanied by an organ or simply sang a cappella rather than having the over-powering Band especially in carols that have Gregorian chant modulations.

We were treated to the Finale from Laura’s Cow: The Legend of Laura Secord, a new opera by Errol Gay, a work that is not scheduled to premiere until next June.

You probably can’t have opera arias and Greek songs and still qualify the evening as a Christmas Concert. This Yuletide celebration had four songs by Greek composers and “Una voce poco fa” from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Ariana Chris’s rich and mellow had little problem dealing with the aria but the brass accompaniment gives one pause. You need to make some quick aural adjustments to listening to the very different accompaniment.

There was an issue of balancing the band, the singer and the acoustics and the powerful sound of the band provided strong competition for Ms Chris and she did not always win the contest.

Ms Chris sang four Greek songs accompanied by Leonidas Zafiris on bouzouki and Fotis Tubanos on guitar. Manos Hadzidakis’s “The North Star” gained a haunting quality in the large church but there were problems. The acoustics swallowed the music and prevented the crisp chords that we want to hear from the bouzouki and the guitar. Loizos’s “Lullaby” gained a dream-like quality from the acoustics. The audience responded enthusiastically to Ms Chris’s performance.

As is de rigueur in a Christmas concert, the audience joined in for a couple of the carols. A very civilized evening but let’s get to the real complaint. With all those cornets present and the chorus where in the world was the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah? Even a Yuletide Celebration should have it. And as for “Silent Night,” it was only added as an encore. You can see the problem!!

Needless to say, my complaints are registered as a possible point-getter from the Keeper of the Pearly Gates just in case I am brought to task for complaining about something that I thoroughly enjoyed.

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