The very fact that a church choir of about 30 vocalists can showcase a concert to the public of Handel’s Messiah is a testament of the calibre of its singers and their choir director. I am speaking of the Senior Choir of Knox Presbyterian Church in downtown Toronto. After I had purchased tickets for The Messiah in Burlington with the Brott Music Festival 2012, my daughter invited me and my husband to the Messiah performed at the Knox Presbyterian Church in Toronto. I cannot be more thrilled with my second live performance of this beautiful oratorio composition this Christmas season.
The Knox Presbyterian Church was built in early 1900 and the Church officially moved to this site in 1909. The architecture of the building encompasses the simplicity yet decorative splendour of the Gothic Revival and Romanesque Revival style.
I looked around: the beautiful vaulted ceiling, the stained glass windows, the beautiful Casavant organ and the Christmas wreathes. I felt ready to enjoy The Messiah.
The evening began with a short worship with prayers and hymns, which we sang to the accompaniment of the the orchestra. The Handbell Ensemble of the church gave a performance of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.The bells came in different sizes and the players sometimes switched bells to ring out the right notes with impressive agility.
The programme included reading of commentaries in between the recitatives and arias of the Messiah. The texts were based on the book entitled Understanding Handel’s Messiah by Dr. Kariano DiGangi, a former minister of the Church. I had not come across the book before; I liked the comforting and reassuring words. The choir delivered beautifully. I want to single out the duet for Alto (Chelsea Sauer) and Soprano (Anna Casurella) in He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd. The vocalists sang with professional calibre and their voices were so compatible with each other that their parts coalesce into one duet. Choir Director Roger Bergs conducted from the harpsichord. This certainly was a feat, especially the instrumentalists were guests invited to form the orchestra, and it was understandable that on the odd occasion the coherence of the choir impressed more than the orchestra.
Only half of the Messiah was presented, and the concert ended with the chorus Life Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates and the Hallelujah Chorus. It was an evening of a musical as well as spiritual journey. After a short prayer and the hymn The First Noel, we left the church and walked into the winter night, ready to welcome Christmas.
It was also announced that the Easter portion of the Messiah would be performed next Spring. I will mark the date on my calendar.