Only by a “miracle” did the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra’s A Baroque Christmas concert go off on Saturday night.
Conductor Claude Lapalme said if Friday’s heavy snowfall had happened any later, the concert at the Gaetz United Church would certainly have been cancelled.
“It was our Christmas miracle.”
As it was, motorists were being warned against Hwy 2 travel earlier on Saturday, so concert organizers were busy lining up a chartered bus to bring 16 musicians up from Calgary, recruiting a last-minute bassoonist to replace a B.C. oboist who couldn’t make it into the Calgary airport, and replanning a dozen other things.
“The preparation was absolutely unbelievable,” said Lapalme.
But the concert did go off, to the delight of the nearly full house crowd that had braved appalling road conditions to attend.
Audience members were rewarded by hearing baroque music performed as authentically as possible.
The string instruments were played with period bows.
Lapalme had transposed music played by organist Wendy Markosky to a lower tone, since baroque organs were set at a lower pitch than the modern Gaetz United Church pipe organ.
And the singers from the Calgary group VoiceScapes pronounced the Latin words in Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Christmas Mass with a French accent.
“We’re not wearing powdered wigs, and we’re not being lit with candles, otherwise, we are giving you as much of a backward look as possible,” Lapalme told the chuckling crowd.
The Charpentier piece, made up of music from 11 French Christmas carols, was pretty awe-inspiring.
The nine-member choir repeated the familiar Gloria in excelsis Deo, Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, and Hosanna in excelsis, filling the peak-roofed church with glorious voices.
The orchestra’s string instruments sounded much mellower when played with baroque bows, giving the music a rounder, more languorous sound.
When combined with the reasonant pipe organ, the music seemed in keeping with the slower and more contemplative period in which the piece was written.
Close your eyes and you could imagine the powdered wigs.
The RDSO and singers also performed Johann Sebastian Bach’s Second Cantata from his Christmas Oratorio.
This time, the VoiceScapes ensemble sang in German, with soloists taking turns singing parts written for a bass, tenor and alto.
Audience members could follow the English translation on a provided program and smile over the literal translation: “Look, there lies in the dark stable one who has dominion over all! Where once an ox sought food, now rests the Virgin’s child.”
OK, maybe the cantata’s text wasn’t poetry, but parts of the performance by the RDSO and singers came awfully close.