Love and Nature take Center Stage in New Oratorio

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Love and Nature take Center Stage in New Oratorio
by Joseph So / June 3, 2000
When Nicholas Goldschmidt, the peripatetic champion of classical music commissioned Derek Holman for a new work as part of the Music Canada 2000 festivities, he specified that it be in some way connected with the new Millennium and Canadian in flavour.
Composer Derek Holman gladly complied and on June 1st, we heard the result – a fifty minute oratorio scored for a mammoth orchestra, two choirs, and three soloists. The text of Invisible Reality is drawn from eight poems by P.K. Page, and the title is an allegorical reference to Plato’s cave, where perception of reality is delimited by one’s perspective, much like a man chained inside a cave having a distorted understanding of the outside world. There is a strong sense of spirituality in the text, which speaks of heaven and earth, love and beauty, life and death. The eight “movements”, sung by various combinations of soloists and choirs, represent a journey of searching for truth about nature and understanding of the human condition, which is finally revealed through love.
Holman’s musical idiom is tonal and accessible, with very fine choral writing. Of particular interest are the 5th and 7th movements. In Memoriam (5th) with the percussive orchestral opening and the clipped choral writing is properly militaristic, reflecting the violence and desolation of the poetic imagination. Sleigh bells combined with children’s voices in the 5th movement (A Grain of Sand) recalls Mahler at his most evocative. The final movement, Love’s Pavilion, utilizes all the forces and impresses one with the waves of orchestral sound at the expense of individual solo voices. Here, conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste fails to rein in the orchestra sufficiently: the soloists simply didn’t have a chance during the climaxes on opening night. Perhaps part of the fault lies with the composition. Besides covering the singers, the very dense orchestral writing, particularly in the final movement, detracts from the sense of spirituality which is the essence of the work in the first place. The quieter moments elsewhere are more effective to these ears.
The three soloists are very fine – when you can hear them. Wendy Nielsen, replacing an ailing Adrianne Pieczonka, sang well, though she had some trouble with the awkward vocal line of her first movement solo. Mezzo-soprano Susan Platts impressed with her rich, contralto-like sounds. Tenor Ben Heppner sang with his customary clarion tone, and with the best diction of the three. Also on the program are three orchestral songs by Richard Strauss with themes of love and devotion that complement the Holman work. On the other hand, the inclusion of Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks on the program is puzzling. While it shows off the marvellous virtuoso playing and conducting, it remains outside the theme of the evening’s program.
The program will be repeated on June 3, at 8 p.m. It will be broadcast on CBC Radio Two Choral Concert, with host Howard Dyck, on June 25, 2000 at 8:00 a.m.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Jukka-Pekka Saraste Conductor
Toronto Children’s Chorus
The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir
Ben Heppner Tenor
Wendy Nielsen Soprano
Susan Platts Mezzo-soprano

 R. Strauss  Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28
   Three Songs featuring Ben Heppner –
   “Heimliche Aufforderung” from Vier Lieder, Op. 27
   “Cacilie” from Vier Lieder, Op. 27
   ” Zueignung” from Acht Lieder aus Letzte Blatter, Op. 10
 D. Holman  The Invisible Reality
   I.Single Traveller
   II.Planet Earth
   III.The Answer
   IV.In Memoriam
   VI.The Dome of Heaven
   VII.A Grain of Sand
   VIII.Love’s Pavilion


About Author

Joseph K. So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, but his first love is music, which he studied as an undergraduate student at the State University of New York. Since seeing his first live opera – La Gioconda with Renata Tebaldi at the Met in 1967, the singing voice became his lifelong favourite instrument. In addition to his longtime contributions to La Scena Musicale and The Music Scene, he is Associate Editor of Opera Canada and a frequent contributor to Musical Toronto.

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