If there is one word that encapsulates my experience in attending the Good Friday Concert last April 3rd at the Orpheum Theatre – it would be “sublime”. Billed as a Requiem, I had expectations of a very melancholic evening – but it turned out to be august.
The Vancouver Chamber Choir under the direction of founder Jon Washburn performed choral pieces in theme with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the overall somber observance of Holy Week – considered by many in Christendom as far more theologically revealing on the deity of Jesus than the season of Advent.
The opening act was Heinrich Schütz oratorio Die sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz circa 1645 - a musical setting in German of The Seven Last Words of Christ. Actually seven phrases, Jesus last human cries, were sang by baritone Steven Bélanger with an anguish that touched your soul. Mr. Bélanger came across at a lower range more resonant of a bass voice. He distinctly intoned his lines, especially “Mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen?” “My God, why has thou forsaken me?”. The pain was there but a tinge dry in Mr. Bélanger’s rendering of lines where there should be tenderness - when Jesus said, “Johannes , siehe, das ist deine Mutter” “John, this is your mother”.
The second piece: Giacomo Carissimi’s Historia di Jephte in Latin was composed around the same time as Die sieben Worte. Conductor Jon Washburn told the audience prior to the performance that if one would consider Die sieben Worte as a “gem”, then Historia di Jephte is the “necklace”. The tragic Old Testament story of Jephte, a victorious military leader who rashly vowed to God prior to battle that if his army defeats the enemy, then when he returns, he will offer the life of whoever greets him first from his house. And that first was his only child, his daughter, not named in the Bible, but Carissimi calls Filia (Latin for daughter). Tenor Carman Price as Jephte was at ease in his performance but lacked the delicate blend of bravura and sadness. Soprano Catherine Laub was the opposite. Ms. Laub captured the agony and helplessness of a daughter who knew her father must keep the vow. But obviously additional effort was involved in sustaining those notes.
The piece de resistance of the night was Gabriel Fauré Requiem Opus 48, which was composed between 1887 and 1890. For this final act, the Vancouver Chamber Choir was joined by the Pacifica Singers, Vancouver Youth Choir and a much larger ensemble of the Vancouver Chamber Orchestra. The amalgamation was terrific - showcasing the conducting prowess of Jon Washburn. Although Faure’s Requiem is more known for the central soprano aria Pie Jesu (Pious Jesus), it was the seventh movement In Paradisum (Into Paradise) which was mesmerizing.
The Good Friday Concert was a superb acclamation of the human trait of grief; the continuum of lamentation does not end in torment but in solace and inexplicable rapture.