Edmonton had the rare opportunity to witness Ludwig van Beethoven’s self-proclaimed greatest work, Missa Solemnis, on Friday evening. The occasion was rare because the work is unrelentingly virtuosic throughout, requiring a huge choir and four talented soloists who can navigate through soaring high notes, all while being joined by a full orchestra with a concertmaster worthy of the beautiful violin solo. It was Leonard Ratzlaff and his Richard Eaton Singers, joined by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, who brought this masterpiece to the audience at the Winspear Centre.
The concert marked the Richard Eaton Singers’ 60th anniversary and Leonard Ratzlaff’s 30th anniversary as conductor of the ensemble. To celebrate, they began the evening with Haydn’s Te Deum in C, which was the first work that Dr. Ratzlaff conducted those 30 years ago. The piece featured the choir, the orchestra, and organist Jeremy Spurgeon. All musicians proved to be in fine form. With the Haydn complete, the entrance of the four vocal soloists signalled the start of the much-anticipated Beethoven work.
From Dr. Ratzlaff’s first cue, the audience knew that everyone was in for a treat. The choir admirably tackled the difficult music, and each member seemed to enjoy doing it. They attacked the high notes and wove their sound into that of the orchestra and soloists. Soprano Laura Whalen handled the notoriously difficult soprano solo with poise and elegance. Her voice had a crystalline quality to it, and she manoeuvred her sound through an endlessly legato line. Tenor Michael Colvin and Edmonton baritone Nathan Berg brought powerful, dramatic instruments to the stage. Mezzo-soprano Anita Krause had the richest voice on stage, which she used to deliver some beautifully touching moments; she truly seemed to be enjoying herself on stage.
The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra played beautifully, if not a little loudly at times. Special mention must go to violinist Eric Buchmann, the orchestra’s interim concertmaster, whose violin solo in the fourth movement was very touching. In fact, the fourth movement was the highlight of the evening; I felt that each musician on stage was part of one whole unit. It was truly beautiful.
The entire evening was magnificent. The Richard Eaton Singers marked their 60th anniversary with a Beethoven masterpiece that the Edmonton audience was only too happy to receive.