Review: Ottawa talent shines in Rutter retrospective concert

Ottawa's Kerson Leong and British composer and conductor John Rutter bask in the applause from a full house inside Dominion-Chalmers United Church Sunday evening. Photo: Peter Robb

John Rutter does take some heat over his music, but whatever you think about it, there is little doubt it is exactly what he wants it to be: melodic and accessible … in a very good way.

There was an ample demonstration Sunday night inside Dominion-Chalmers United Church with a full concert featuring a program that essentially spanned Rutter’s career from the early days to the very recent.

The evening featured the 72 year old Rutter at the podium conducting Ottawa’s Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra along with members of the Elmer Iseler Singers, the Capital Chamber Choir and the Ottawa Children’s Choir along with Matthew Larkin on the organ and Caroline Leonardelli on the harp.

That is a boatload of Ottawa talent right there. But then add in the soloists and you have an evening that featured many of the best musicians in this city playing music by one of the best known composers for the voice working today. It was a night not to be missed.

Rutter’s work can occasionally teeter on the edge of being too sugary, like a slice of cake with too much frosting. That was the case with the opening piece of the concert Look at the World which Rutter wrote as an anthem for the green Earth. Still, the performance by choir and strings offered a strong start to the evening.

Then program then turned to one of Rutter’s early instrumental works (yes he does write for instruments too) called Suite Antique (1979), for flute, harpsichord and string orchestra.

The piece has six movements and featured the fabulous Joanna G’froerer, of the NAC Orchestra, front and centre as the flute soloist. Well-known keyboardist Frederic Lacroix was on harpsichord. There were points when the delicate sounds produced by the harpsichord were almost hidden away in the performance which was a shame because when the instrument could be heard well, Lacroix’s playing shone. But the stage belonged to G’froerer especially during the closing Rondeau when the dance was truly joined.

The highlight of the first half of the evening was the performance of the piece Visions which Rutter wrote in 2016 for Ottawa’s rising superstar violinist Kerson Leong. Accompanied by strings and combined choir, Visions was a moody discussion of the meaning of Jerusalem as an ideal of Jerusalem as heaven essentially, not the troubled centre of the Arab-Israeli crisis.

Leong, though just turned 21, is touring the world as a soloist in demand. He’s played Visions at Carnegie Hall, in Hong Kong and in London twice with Rutter, but he has not played it in performance in Ottawa until Sunday night. It was worth the wait.

Leong has a confident mastery of this work. His playing was at times plaintive, at other times powerful and virtuosic. Rutter says he found his inspiration in the dark inside London’s Temple Church, surrounded by the graves of the Knights Templar. You certainly get that feel from the piece.

The audience leapt to their feet after the piece was completed and called Leong back to the stage where he played an effortless Andante movement from J.S. Bach’s second sonata for violin.

The second half of the evening was handed over to a performance of one of Rutter’s best-known and most performed pieces, his Magnificat which he wrote in 1990.

The audience was packed full of choral singers Sunday night and many of them have probably sung the work in their own choirs over the years. It is so ubiquitous that Rutter cracked wise when announcing it by saying it was first time it had been sung on a day when France won the World Cup of soccer.

Sunday’s performance was well-sung by the choirs involved and the Ottawa native, Mireille Asselin employed her bright and passionate soprano to great effect in the Et Misericordia and Esurientes.

The concert repeats Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. at Dominion-Chalmers.

Share Post
Written by

Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.