This afternoon, a packed house at Koerner Hall was treated to a rare and stirring performance of Edward Elgar’s oratorio The Kingdom by the Pax Christi Chorale, in honour of its 25th anniversary.
The choir, augmented by its youth division, four soloists and orchestra, did justice to the glories of Elgar’s complex music. He was as much a star of the concert as its interpreters — a fact acknowledged by conductor Stephanie Martin as she held the scarlet leather-bound score aloft during the prolonged and noisy standing ovation.
It’s a shame that we don’t hear great English choral works from the Victorian and Edwardian eras more often, because they contain so much to impress any listener.
Lovers of opera can appreciate the grand scale and sweep of the dramatic arc of a well-turned text and orchestration. People who prefer art song or arias can bask in prolonged solos. Devotees of choral music have plenty of richly texured choruses to savour. And listeners who like music with a larger-than-life, quasi-cinematic scope can get carried away on crescendos of sound.
Elgar’s Kingdom is populated with all of this, as well as powerful message of faith for those inclined to heed its text, carefully chosen by the composer from the Christian New Testament.
Although everyone on stage deserved the ovation, special mention needs to go to the soloists, tenor Keith Klassen, mezzo soprano Krisztina Szabó and visiting British baritone Roderick Williams, whose richly oaked voice and impeccably turned phrasing turned every solo into a golden moment.
Toronto soprano Shannon Mercer bought a compelling luminosity to a prolonged solo in “The sun goeth down,” at the close of the fourth of The Kingdom‘s five parts, or movements.
And then there’s the remarkable work of Pax Christi artistic director Stephanie Martin, who teased out Elgar’s complex leitmotifs with utter clarity as she held an iron command over the hour-and-a-half of music from beginning to end.
Perhaps it helped that she was working with an orchestra approximately half the size of what Elgar had at his disposal at the oratorio’s 1906 premiere. But at no point did the music ever sound as if it we were missing a single timbre or texture.
Here was the full glory of a grand old choral tradition, delivered with great polish and total conviction. Plus we could go home with Elgar melodic motifs swimming around with the warm memories.