Calgary's Professional Music Collective


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“…their sound, which was rich and lively as an overheard cocktail party… very masculine and vibrantly feminine… an exquisite sound… they’re that good…”
Allison Kydd - Vue Weekly, Edmonton

“That much preparation had gone into this concert was evident from the high standard of the performances and the idiomatic way in which the music was performed. ... The members of VoiceScapes…sang the solos, bringing to the music a natural feel for the rhythym, articulation and ornamentation of this highly stylized music. ... The finest moments of the concert came in the various Purcell and John Blow sons sung by members of VoiceScapes... Everywhere throughout the evening there was evidence of care in detail, ranging from the choice of interesting and varied program to the details of performance.”
“A worthy addition to Calgary’s music scene, VoiceScapes … provid(es) an enriched musical palate for music lovers.”

Kenneth DeLong - The Calgary Herald

Review of VoiceScapes'Bach: B Minor Mass production, Feb 2014
by Kenneth Delong, For The Calgary Herald
Early Music Voices delivers Bach masterpiece
Early Music Voices presents: J.S. Bach: Mass in B minor; Voicescapes and Guests, Red Deer Symphony Orchestra, Claude Lapalme, conductor.

For lovers of classical music, Christ Church, Elbow Park, was the place to be this past weekend. On Saturday night there was a concert by international superstar pianist Jan Lisiecki, and less than 24 hours later there was a magnificent performance of J.S. Bach's great masterpiece, the Mass in B minor.

This performance of the B minor mass was in celebration of the 15th anniversary of the founding of Early Music Voices, the principal sponsor and organizer of early music activities of the city. Closely related to the vocal quartet that forms Voicescapes, Early Music Voices has sponsored a great many early music events, bringing to Calgary visitors of all kinds and also providing (through Voicescapes) a local backbone in performance. The artistic director of Early Music Voices is soprano Julie Harris, to whom early music lovers in the city owe a considerable debt of thanks for her untiring energy and support of this corner of musical life.

In recent years, Early Music Voices has been expanding into larger productions, including the expansion of the vocal quartet into a chamber choir through the addition of the now-considerable cadre of fine, experienced choral singers in the city who have a knowledge of and sympathy with early music. This performance, happily coming at the anniversary point for the organization, was unquestionably their triumph to date, for this was far and away the finest performance of Bach's great masterpiece to be heard in the city in the past 40 years.

Core to the performance was the choir itself, a select group of 18 singers who as individuals straddle the space between choral singers and soloists. Instead of hired soloists, separate from the choir, the solos and duets were all handled by different members of the choir, with Voicescapes providing the core. The size of the choir was ideal for this early music conception of the piece, with enough vocal mass to provide grandeur in the moments of splendour, but also the agility to project the individual lines cleanly and distinctly in the complicated filigree writing with which the work abounds.

There were thrills a-plenty in the choral side of the performance, notably in the final pages of the Cum sancto spiritu, and equally in the glorious exuberance of the Et resurrexit that follows the anguished Crucifixus. An impassioned final Dona nobis pacem, recalling music earlier in the work, capped a fine, sensitively sung account of the choral part of the work, tastefully including many solo lines woven into the broader choral writing.

All the soloists were up to the difficult tasks assigned them, but special mention might be given to the two alto soloists, Aoife Donnelly and Celia Raven Lee, whose singing of the Laudamus Te [note: this actually sung by Christina Jahn] and the Agnus Dei, respectively, was especially warm-toned and expressive. An equally happy moment was the singing of the treacherous Benedictus by Jan van der Hooft, to whom the powers above granted a voice able to make this almost unsinkable piece sound eloquent and truly beautiful. Paul Grindlay handled the bass solos with aplomb, including a movingly sung, expressive Et in spiritum sanctum dominum.

The orchestra, customized with early music instruments, played remarkably well, with exceptionally fine playing in the obligato accompaniments, especially for violin, double reed instruments, trumpet and flute. As a total ensemble they were central to the early music sound of the performance and to its success. Kudos are certainly due to Claude Lapalme, who led the combined forces with vigour and sensitivity to the complex musical textures.

It is perhaps worth reflecting for a moment on just how far the standard of vocal and choral performance has developed in Calgary in recent years. Performances like this are justifiably moments of civic pride. A gold medal is deserved here, as much as at the Olympics.

Review of VoiceScapes'Acis and Galatea production, May 2009
"It seems that 2009 is the year for musical anniversaries. Aside from the 200th birth of Mendelssohn and also the death of Haydn, this is also the 250th anniversary of the death of Handel. Less grand, perhaps, except for the members of the group itself, this is also the anniversary of Calgary's early music performing society Early Music Voices, now celebrating their 10th year of presenting concerts to the Calgary public.

And what better idea could there be than to combine the last two anniversaries into a grand musical event? Handel's Acis and Galatea is neither an oratorio nor an opera, but it shares aspects of both. Much performed, especially in England, in days gone by, it is now rarely heard, except in performance by groups devoted to early music. The topic is very arch, to say the least, and one must enter, playfully of course, into the arcane world of Restoration poetry and a story based upon the Roman classics where the idyllic pastoral love of Acis and Galatea is dashed by the monster Polyphemus. What makes it all go down is the music of Handel, which was never fresher and more imaginative than in this charming work.

The putting together of this performance, especially for an organization of modest resources, was a considerable feat. What was even more impressive was the performance itself, which was exceptionally clean in delivery, stylish, and delivered with just the right amount of dash and verve. The heart of any performance of this piece lies in the four soloists.

Here the concert was greatly benefited by the presence of Benjamin Butterfield, whose elegantly produced lyric tenor was perfectly suited to the unique demand of this work. As Acis, Butterfield had three large virtuoso arias to sing, as well as sundry duets, all of which were impressive for their brilliant Handelian style and dramatic delivery. A compelling performer in all respects, he gave the entire performance a shot in the arm, his professionalism apparent at every turn.

Tracy Smith Bessette was an appealing Galatea and clearly experienced in this style of music. Although her enunciation was less than completely projected, she nonetheless sang beautifully in tune and with fine musical character, especially in the charming aria "As when the Dove." It was good to once again hear a former Calgarian who is making a fine name for herself in the increasingly competitive world of early music singing.

Well-known Calgary bass Paul Grindlay was the monster Polyphemus in a part that almost seemed to be specially written for his particular talents. Grindlay communicates this type of music with rare understanding of the matching of music and text, his performance of the aria "O Ruddier than the Cherry," a textbook example for any aspiring young bass.

The 10-voice choir, with three tenor parts, sang remarkably well, with special kudos to the two top tenor who survived Handel's stratospheric writing remarkably unscathed. Claude Lapalme of the Red Deer Symphony led the pick-up orchestra with his customary vigour and clean attention to detail. The chamber orchestra itself, which had much very difficult writing to play, was remarkably good, especially the two oboe players who also doubled on recorders.

This was a standing ovation performance, especially for a local group or modest resources, and a standing ovation it duly received."
- Kenneth DeLong - The Calgary Herald, May 25, 2009

Review of VoiceScapes' Dido and Aeneas
"VoiceScapes marks its first decade with opera"

"Over the past nine years the fortunes of the vocal side of early music in Calgary have largely been carried by the efforts of VoiceScapes, a quartet of younger professional singers devoted to the delights of pre-Bach vocal music.

Now on the threshold of reaching their first decade, VoiceScapes has branched out a little and has ventured into the realm of Baroque opera with a semi-staged performance on Saturday of Purcell's evergreen chamber opera Dido and Aeneas. With just a little juggling of the parts, the principal roles in the opera nicely fit the voice types of the core quartet of singers, the smaller roles provided by various musical friends and colleagues, who together with the core quartet, also comprised the chorus.

The important instrumental part was performed by local string players who, on this occasion, were expertly led by Paul Luchkow of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, with the capable harpsichord assistance of Chellan Hoffman.

Technically, the music of Dido and Aeneas lies within the abilities of a good amateur singer, but it does require considerable finesse and a highly cultivated sense of period style. These aspects were well handled in this highly enjoyable performance, not the least in the considerable choral element which was remarkably well handled.

Julie Harris in the title role of Dido brought to the performance her considerable experience with this style of music, her singing subtle and polished, with great assurance in ornamentation and florid singing. The famous lament was dramatically and vocally the high point of the opera, bringing together the strands of the plot that weave toward this moment. Vocally, this was very sophisticated singing that revealed the inner nature of Dido's noble character.

Harris was well partnered by the slightly brighter singing of Christina Jahn in the important role of Belinda, whose various solos provided a foil for the more serious Dido. Jerald Fast sang Aeneas with her customary sweet tenor sound, rising to moments of passion in the penultimate scene. ...

Paul Grindlay sang the witch with a very fine sense of verbal and vocal colouring. In general, both on his role as a soloist and as a choral bass, he provided exemplary support to the concert as a whole, his contribution not only significant, but exceptionally fine in vocal terms." - Kenneth DeLong - The Calgary Herald, Sunday May 4, 2008

"…the concert presented a splendid account of Bach's Magnificat, one of the composer's most attractive choral compositions. The performing forces, combining the cream of early music local singers and guests clearly had the measure of the work, the rhythms nicely sprung, and the character of the music sharply realized. The idea of a small chamber choir with the soloists drawn from the choir worked beautifully, the combined forces giving a plausible idea of how Bach might have envisioned the performance of the piece. All the soloists (Nathalie Paulin, Julie Harris, Christina Jahn, Matthew White, Alan Bennett, Paul Grindlay) sang their brief solos with high competence. … The choral singing was a special delight, particularly from the men, who obviously relished the challenge of their difficult parts. The concert also included a charming performance of Bach's humour-filled Coffee Cantata…. Paul Grindlay was in fine form as the crusty father, delivering his arias with humour and solid singing. … The cantata was semi-staged, an excellent idea, that greatly enhanced the effect of the humour."
- Kenneth DeLong - The Calgary Herald

Review of VoiceScapes'Christmastide CD
"VoiceScapes is a scintillating Calgary-based quartet created in 2000 by two couples. Christmastide, it's first CD is a sparkling transversal, occasionally accompanied by guitar, organ, or recorder, of 21 songs for Christmas. Deftly ranging from the 14th century to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies the festive booklet includes the text of each song, and a remarkable recording places the musicians squarely into one listening room."
- from The Magic Flute's "Flute Notes"

Quartet's early carols sublime

"This year's Red Deer Symphony Orchestra Christmas concert conjured up an era long gone. "I said I wanted to have a Christmas concert without Rudolf," music director Claude Lapalme explained to the audience at Red Deer College's Arts Centre Main Stage on Saturday night. He said he wanted it to be an intimate affair with an old-fashioned feel. To do that, as noted, there was no Rudolf, no Frosty, nor any of the rest of the more recent arrivals to the Christmas season repertoire. Instead, there were only a few musicians, including strings and a harpsichord, and four outstanding vocalists: ... VoiceScapes. The four have years of individual experience behind them and have sung as a group since 2000. That shows in their very-well balanced, confident delivery, not to mention in the delight they obviously take in what they do. It wasn't that hard to imagine yourself in some 17th or 18th century drawing room, drinking in the sounds of traditional carols on Saturday night. ...
Many of the arrangements were done by Lapalme, a fact acknowledged by Grindlay, who added: "You have a true treasure in your community." ...
VoiceScapes did a fine job, duly acknowledged by the appreciative full house. ...
In all, it was a delightful evening full of the ambience of a bygone time that fortunately, lives on in this music.

- Penny Caster - Red Deer Advocate, December 10, 2007

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