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Elora shines a fresh, clear light on Beethoven

  • Elora Festival
  • Opening concert - Beethoven
  • Elora Festival Singers and Orchestra
  • Toronto Mendelssohn Singers
  • In Elora on Friday night

The annual Elora Festival, that big event in a small community, seems to be developing a habit of plucking victory from the jaws of misfortune, and it confirmed that tendency at its opening concert in a packed Gambrel Barn Friday night.

One recent year, an unseasonal plummeting temperature and a bitter north wind threatened to freeze out the concert, but the music lit warming fires in the undiscouraged audience's hearts. Another year, a freakish deluge of rain flooded the barn, but all the pool vacuums in the district rallied to suck up and contain the ankle-deep water in time for the concert to proceed.

This year, Noel Edison, the festival's architect, artistic director and principal conductor had to undergo a small surgery which kept him from leading the Elora Festival Singers and Orchestra in the scheduled Beethoven concert. But the remarkable Ivars Taurins, best known as the founding conductor of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir was able to step into Edison's shoes and save the day, bringing all his rich choral experience, ever-increasing orchestral skills and distinctive points of view to Beethoven's youthful Second Symphony and far-too-seldom-performed Mass in C.

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Taurins is both a highly disciplined musical thinker and an impassioned communicative artist, and both qualities found free rein in these vivid examples of Beethoven's art.

The Second Symphony is very much a known quantity, through countless performances, but Taurins brought to it a fresh, neo-Toscaninian rhythmic propulsion, sculpting its dynamic and lyrical profiles with a sure hand, clarifying its textures and perspectives, and all without distorting its proportions.

The orchestra responded promptly to all his demands, quailing only in the finale beneath a tempo which may have been ideal in the conductor's mind's ear but was impracticably quick in the circumstances. The violins, for instance, were hard-pressed to negotiate their filigrees with clear articulation, easy grace and full panache. They met their deadlines but they sounded rushed. The other three movements were hard to fault. The opening one was cogency itself. The larghetto, which can dawdle, moved elegantly, always forward. The scherzo was crisply succinct.

The Mass in C is a much less familiar work, and Taurins and the Elora Festival Singers and Orchestra invested it with qualities of revelation, entering fully into the extreme resourcefulness of Beethoven's scoring and harmony and the singularity of his vision. I cannot think why this mass is not far better known and more admired than it is. It is quite unlike any other setting of these timeless words, no obvious kin of even Beethoven's own mighty final setting, the Missa Solemnis. It is a strikingly original piece - one of the composer's most imaginative examples of word-setting and one of his richest in harmony and inventive device. On all of it this Elora performance shone a clear fresh light.

Both excellent female soloists enhanced this strong impression. Soprano Nathalie Paulin contributed a quietly radiant sound, vocally secure and interpretively stylish. Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Enns Modolo, a recurrent favourite at this festival, has matured into a lovely singer, serene in her command of an unforced, expressive sound. The two men were not so well matched or successful. Tenor Eric Shaw is still musically callow, vocally unfinished and rhythmically insecure. Peter McGillivray, that admirably musical and intelligent baritone, has not in his range the resonant lower notes this particular role visits too often, so that the bottom reaches of his music were inaudible. McGillivray has an arrestingly programmed festival recital coming up on July 17 that I'm sure will stay within his natural tessitura.

As for Noel Edison, his many admirers will be happy to know he is out of hospital and in rehearsal for his next festival concerts, which include a Handel-Vivaldi program on the 18th and an opera gala with Richard Margison on the 23rd.

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