By Robert K Stephen
(TORONTO, ON) – The Toronto Consort performs at the Trinity St-Paul’s Centre, Jeanne Lamon Hall. Let’s face it, it is a church and it’s often cold and drafty, and it may invoke thoughts of some amateur troupe performing in a church basement. Rest assured, there is nothing amateur about the Toronto Consort who have been performing since 1972.
The Toronto Consort specializes in the music of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and early Baroque.
On November 7 and 8, they opened their 2014-15 season with Paris Confidential. And its theme is from inspired Scotsman George Buchanan, who lived off and on in Paris.
Buchanan was born in 1506 in Scotland, and was sent to study in Paris when he was 14. He obtained his BA, in Scotland, at St Andrews and returned to Paris in 1525 to study at the University of Paris, where he studied with heavyweights Ignatius Loyola, John Calvin, and François Rabelais.
Buchanan was arrested in 1539 after a writing a series of satirical poems about the Franciscan order. He escaped to England and was sheltered by Thomas Cromwell. He later returned to Paris where he lived for the next twenty years.
The music in the concert represents various aspects of secular and sacred music-making in Paris. Buchanan experienced the reign of four kings in France. In 1557 Buchanan was naturalized as a French citizen.
While there is always a bit of narration at a Toronto Consort concert this concert witnessed extensive narration about the Paris that Buchanan experienced. So, while the concert certainly exhibited the high talents of the Toronto Consort, it was also an educational narrative of Paris as seen through Buchanan and a pictorial history of ancient Paris, assembled by Alison Mackay.
In short, the concert was a spectacular multimedia presentation of Paris long ago, and pulled off with crisp narration by David Fallis, the imagination of Mackay, and the immense vocal and musical talent of the Toronto Consort.
You may ask, why do I review the Toronto Consort?
I will respond in that it often transports me effortlessly into bygone eras and I love the sacred elements of the music and its lighter Renaissance rockability. Particularly when Ben Grossman is on the hurdy- gurdy.
Rest assured, if you focus deeply, there is Carlos Santana, Miles Davis, and Jimi Hendrix in the Toronto Consort. It’s just that it is in back, driven by some 500 years and the power of the instrument. It can be found not only in the voices of the Toronto Consort but in their instruments as well.
There were some 18 numbers involved in the concert. Fallis narrated between the songs, which were written between 1535-1612. His narrations, through the lips of Buchanan, highlighted the life Paris.
Brief descriptions of the life of the Right Bank, Left Bank, the artisanal and guild life, the life of the royal court, the architecture, the stay of the Iroquois chief Donnacona, deaths of kings, street festivals, and the markets during Buchanan’s stay, were interesting and, dare I say, educational.
Kudos to Mackay for assembling the pictorial and historical images of Paris. Now, while the pictorial and narration was flawless, if not inspiring, in the recital of Buchanan’s poem about how much he missed Paris, the choral and musical talents of the Toronto Consort can’t be forgotten.
The Toronto Consort has a tremendous ability to move effortlessly between the sacred and the riotous music of the time. This performance had me a bit edgy.
For lack of accurate comparison, the Toronto Consort can blow you away like some rockabilly band, or they can move you to solemnity with angelic choral compositions. In Paris Confidential I was waiting for a big musical and choral explosion, but was denied. A couple of times they were on the edge of exploding out.
If you are looking for a rollicking good time you’ll see it at The Little Barley-Corne Yuletide Revels from The Renaissance on December 12, 13, and 14.
It was a solid group effort both musically and chorally. Everyone had their chance to shine and indeed they did.
I have loads of notes about the remarkable vocals and musical performances of each performer. It would be meaningless to point out remarkable but I just can’t resist remarking on the authoritative solo of Laura Pudwell on Mon Dieu la Belle Entrée, the soaring and inspiring voice of Katherine Hill on the opening song Puisque vivre en servitude, and the flawless solo of Michele de Boer on O ma dame pers-je mon temps, who was also hypnotic and magical on Mignonne allons voir.
Wow. What a start to the 2014-2015 Toronto Consort season.