Classical Music

Voces8 Close To Perfection In Toronto Debut

Voces8 (Image courtesy of the artists)

Lux Aeterna: Byrd, Britten, Gibbons, Elgar, Rachmaninoff, Parry, Palestrina, et al. Voces8; October 11, 2022, St. James Cathedral, Toronto.

Can millions of YouTube viewers be wrong? Well, often, yes, but not in the case of Voces8. The British a cappella octet proved quite worthy of all its online success Tuesday evening at the Cathedral Church of St. James.

It was a mixed program, comprising music drawn from the Renaissance and more recent times. England, of course, loomed large. The rapid counterpoint of William Byrd’s Haec Dies was joyously negotiated, and Orlando Gibbons’s eight-voice O Clap Your Hands made clear how strong these singers are both individually and as a collective.

Four-on-four antiphonal motets, like Palestrina’s Magnificat primo toni, which concluded the program as printed, were impeccably balanced. Here and elsewhere, hairpin dynamics fended off any sense of sameness. Rolled r’s added an animating touch of percussion to Victoria’s Regina caeli.

There were also more soothing items, such as Rachmaninoff’s Bogoroditse Devo (i.e. Ave Maria) and the Nunc Dimittis of Voces8 co-founder Paul Smith (whose alto brother Barnaby is artistic director), all beautifully polished. Yet the fine tooling never seemed precious or undertaken for its own sake. Three of Hubert Parry’s six Songs of Farewell (1916-18) were rendered deeply personal by clear diction and varied phrasing. The effect was of combined song and speech.

The program was titled Lux Aeterna, after the choral arrangement of Elgar’s Nimrod from the Enigma Variations. Warmly applauded, this did not, in my view, rival the orchestral original in pathos, the luminous soprano of Andrea Haines notwithstanding. Another big hit (with a very big crowd) was Parry’s stirring I was Glad, one of three contributions by some four dozen mostly student choristers brought together by Daniel Taylor and his Theatre of Early Music. Taylor conducted the Parry, which started with a majestic fanfare on the organ.

The encore was Mendelssohn’s Denn er hat seinen Engeln, another eight-part tour de force — if such gracious music can be so described. My ideal Voces8 program would include more selections from Central Europe and a multi-movement work. You cannot have everything.

The singers took turns in introducing the pieces. Even the American tenor Blake Morgan managed to channel a British sense of humour.

There was a late start owing to what was announced as a flood in the restrooms. This did not stop Taylor from delivering an introductory address from the pulpit. The noted countertenor was central to the organization of this concert, which marked the Toronto debut of Voces8. Theatre of Early Music was listed as the presenter, in collaboration with Opus 3 Artists.

Thanks to all.


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