Looking for an alternative to the Messiah & Handel?
Look no further than Toronto Consort’s current program, Schütz’s Christmas Story, curated by David Fallis.
You will hear stunningly beautiful music that you’ve probably never encountered before. Schütz is new to me. Speaking of Handel, Schütz’s baroque aesthetic is in some ways more primitive & simple than what we encounter in Messiah in the next century, at least as far as his creative procedures that we see growing from Monteverdi, a composer you might hear echoed by Schütz: except the words are sung in German rather than Italian.
My Toronto Consort attendance is irregular, so I can’t be sure when I say that this is the most impressive thing they’ve ever done. But wow, there are a great many wonderful things happening among the players, colours & timbres that would be our focus if we didn’t have so much text & drama before us. Schütz deserves to be better known, and perhaps programs like this one will remedy that injustice.
The approaches to story-telling is something I wish I could have studied more closely, but then again I’d have to know the music & the words much better, to have a sense of the dramaturgy, the strategies in the piece as written vs what I think I see in the interpretations.
And you will hear remarkable performances.
Charles Daniels is again showing us his versatility. Where with another artist I might question the authenticity, asking “is this the right way to do this”, with Daniels I assume it’s right. He works hard to sing the words clearly, has impeccable pitch & phrasing, and usually underplays even at the most dramatic moments in a text.
Katherine Hill sounded wonderful & clear. Dare I say it “angelic”? But how does one sing music meant for an angel, and how much drama does one include? Like Daniels, Hill underplayed.
And Joel Allison showed us a lovely rich tone, while at times giving us a bit more theatricality in his Herod. That feels right to me as a former PLS actor (“PLS” are a University of Toronto troupe exploring pre-Shakespearean theatre), familiar with mystery plays & the tradition of histrionics in a role such as Herod: possibly the most over-acted role of them all.
I admire the ambitions of this program, the way Fallis dared to assemble pieces in the first half around a lamentation after the massacre of the innocents. It lends a weight & depth to the Christmas story, making the eventual joy & celebration feel three-dimensional and grounded.
In the second half we get Schütz’s Historia von der Geburt Jesu Christi, a complete Christmas story. Daniels is the Evangelist telling the story through a very simple recitative. Schütz’s style & delicate attention to the text reminds me of his near-contemporary Lully, a direct, unencumbered approach to setting words to music. The priority is telling the story.
The music goes back and forth between evangelist recitative & “intermedium” perhaps to be thought of as “intermezzo”, a concerted composition that is a little bit more like an aria or song, although sometimes the intermedium sounds somewhat like recitative. There are eight of these episodes, corresponding to parts of the story such as the visit of the Magi or the Angel singing to the shepherds in the field. This is a baroque that is transparent rather than showy, not yet seeking to give us a display of skill or virtuosity, as we’ll get later with Handel or Bach.
David Fallis curating a program usually takes us deeper, in programs of integrity & ambition. He’s likely a big reason we’re so fortunate to have another visit from an extraordinary artist such as Charles Daniels.
The program repeats Saturday night & Sunday afternoon at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.