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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Music Review: Early Music Vancouver celebrated its 50th birthday with an enthralling Hail, Bright Cecilia

During the two week Vancouver Bach Festival, patrons were drenched in glorious music culminating in Purcell’s salute to Cecilia, Patron Saint of Music

Early Music Vancouver (EMV) celebrated fifty years since its inception with Hail, Bright Cecilia, the final concert in its 4th annual Bach Festival.

Henry Purcell, the 17th Century British composer who put captivating music to Nicholas Brady’s ode to St. Cecilia, would have been as enthralled as the audience at the Chan Centre. St Cecilia herself would have applauded.

From the opening notes played by the twenty-piece Pacific Baroque Orchestra, led by sprite-like Alexander Weimann, the packed house sat breathless and attentive.

Consummate artist Matthew Brook sang a welcome that embraced each musical nuance with his rich bass baritone voice. His performance confirmed his devotion to Baroque music and highlighted his warm inclusiveness with his audience and respect for his fellow musicians.

Brook and fellow soloist ‘regulars’, Dorothee Mields, Alex Potter and Samuel Boden, had become ‘family’ over the course of the festival. Together they had sung Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos as well as his Cantatas and a concert compiled by Potter, entitled Song of Songs, which featured the songs of King Solomon with music by such giants as Palestrina and Monteverdi. The soloists were joined in this instance by internationally acclaimed Baroque soprano Suzie LeBlanc, along with alto Nicholas Burns, tenor Jonathan Quick and baritone Sumner Thompson.

It was a joy to witness Sam Boden’s development during the two weeks of the festival. His performance had grown and matured exponentially in Hail, Bright Cecilia. Indeed, all the performances were worthy of accolades.

Speaking of accolades, during the pre-concert talk, Brook recognized and thanked executive and artistic director of EMV, Matthew White, for his flexible creativity and graciousness as he juggled the entire festival programme and the artists contributing to it. Grinning, White quipped in return,“You’ll be back!”

These EMV ‘pre-chats’ might well be deemed a prerequisite for any concert. They never failed to enlighten, entertain and increase appreciation of the beautiful music throughout the festival. The comprehensive, informative programme notes also deserved praise.

Unfortunately, the first half of the concert was a tad disappointing. Apart from Bill Linwood’s spectacular performance on timpani, the excerpts from Matthew Locke’s incidental music for Shakespeare’s The Tempest failed to reach the heights that had become the norm during the festival. John Blow’s Welcome, Every Guest didn’t resonate either, despite being sung impeccably by sopranos Mields and LeBlanc.

That said, the audience remained enthralled right to the final triumphant chorus of Purcell’s iconic Hail, Bright Cecilia, when the entire company rose once more to the occasion. The packed house could not have wished for a more magnificent ending to a festival brimming with inspirational music and outstanding performances.

Here’s to the next fifty years of EMV and its 5th annual Bach Festival.

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