Medieval Music For Midwinter And Christmas

Stephen-R-Header(TORONTO, ON) – Winter has struck recently. It’s cold and dark outside and its takes a bit of determination to head out the door. I am sure the folks of European Medieval times were not that much different than you or I.

The Toronto Consort endeavoured to capture the spirit of fasting and feasting during the approach of midwinter and Christmas in their annual Christmas concert with performances in Toronto on December 9, 10 and 11. Not only was the audience treated to a solid menu of sacred music, but a spectacular projected collection of medieval art above the stage.

These images were collected from paintings, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, carvings, and mosaics mostly focused on episodes of the Christmas story, the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, the appearance of the Christmas Angels to the shepherd scenes at the manger with either the shepherds or the three magi.

The Toronto Consort delivered a solid dose of serenity and a glimpse of Christmas joy.

There is nothing to be shy about Medieval music as it ranges from forlorn and sacred to raucous and rollicking. And the Toronto Consort knows so very well to play sobering to wild foot stomping renditions.

But, for this Medieval Christmas concert they remained primarily scared and serious veering away from their joyous and mischievous Christmas themed Little Barley Corne (ie: beer) released in 2014.

Their concert focused on the sacred music of the time, although there were a minority of secular numbers such as the lively English dance of Wynter, surviving as one line of a 13th century three voice sacred French motet from Tours. From Naples there is a 15th century song La Vida de Culin describing a trip to the tavern for a dram or two.

The performance of the Toronto Consort was technically correct with its two guest performers, Kirk Elliot and Jessica Wright, adding both an additional musical and vocal punch to the always stellar voices of the immensely talented and scholarly Katherine Hill and the magical voice of Michelle DeBoer.

Alison Melville also brought moments of angelic, and sometimes titillating, flute playing. At times the two solitary voices of David Fallis and John Pepper managed to sound like a church full of monks.

Paul Jenkin’s voice soared above the heavens at times and Ben Grossman anchored the Consort with the deft handling of the hurdy gurdy, the sound of which is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.

The crowd at a Toronto Consort demonstrably loves them when they deliver toe tapping and joyous music, and I have seen the entire hall erupt with cheers when the Consort performs such high energy music. This time, however, the audience gave polite applause with only a few standing and clapping at the end.

Given the primarily serious and sacred theme it was not a type of performance that aroused the passionate excitement of the audience, but I don’t think it was ever designed to do so. Let’s say the sacred nature of Christmas was delivered perfectly by the Toronto Consort.

Perhaps next year we will once again focus on the joyous aspect of Christmas.

If you want to buy tickets for upcoming performances, learn about the Toronto Consort, or buy CDs, check out their website to purchase, or even listen before buying. Christmas becomes so much livelier with their Navidad CD or The Little Barley-Corne.

The Toronto Consort was founded in 1972 and is internationally recognized for excellence by both its singers and instrumentalists in the performance of Medieval, Renaissance, and early Baroque music. There are nine members. The Toronto Consort has an annual subscription, but individual tickets may be ordered for each performance.

In addition to its international travel the Consort has produced music for Showtime’s The Vikings.

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About the Author

Ian Shalapata
Ian Shalapata is the owner and publisher of Square Media Group. He covers politics, the police beat, community events, the arts, sports, and everything in between. His imagery and freelance contributions have appeared in select publications and for organizations in Canada and the United States. Contact Ian with story ideas.