Rick Phillips – CBC Radio Two
Sound Advice for June 12/13, 2004
The University of Alberta Madrigal Singers is a choir of about 45. The group was founded in 1978 as an early music choir, but today performs music from all periods and styles. Of course, being a University choir, the membership is constantly changing. Auditions take place every year in Sept. The choir is led by Leonard Ratzlaff, former Chair of the Dept. of Music at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
Recently out on the Edmonton-based Arktos label is a disc called The Passing of the Year, with the U of A Madrigal Singers. It contains music by the Canadians. Ruth Watson Henderson and Andrew Ager, as well as Gerald Finzi, Brahms, Mendelssohn and others. The title, The Passing of the Year comes from a recent work included, by the British composer Jonathan Dove.
We’ll hear the work by the Toronto composer Andrew Ager. Let Not My Love Be Called Idolatry, words by William. Shakespeare. The University of Alberta Madrigal Singers are directed by Leonard Ratzlaff.
The odd voice stands out here occasionally, unblended. And sometimes they force the voice, breaking the balance and overall choral sound. But this is a very good choir. And you’ll notice how I said, it’s a very good choir and not a good university choir.
You can imagine how difficult it is to maintain a standard when the personnel keeps changing, as members graduate, or go on to other things.
What impressed me here was the keenness and spirit, and the attention to the text. This choir is responsive and musical. The recording, made in the Winspear Centre in Edmonton, is clean and clear.
A solid four stars.
Wholenote Magazine July 2004
The University of Alberta Madrigal Singers began, as their name would suggest, as a 12-voice early music ensemble. When the choir’s ranks swelled to their current membership of forty-four, they expanded their range of repertoire to include many periods and styles.
Their newest recording, The Passing of the Year, is named for one of the more modern compositions on the disc, by Jonathan Dove, who weaves his eight-part textures around a variety of lyrics on seasonal themes by poets Thomas Nash, George Peele, William Blake, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Emily Dickinson. Another double-choir setting, Hail Gladdening Light by Charles Wood features a meditative middle section framed by actively textured beginning and endings. Another deeply textured work is Felix Mendelssohn’s Ave Maria, beginning with solo tenor, moving to eight-part chorus, with a final section in sixteen-part counterpoint. The choir handles this rather well, and seems at ease with the complex demands of this repertoire.
It’s easy to understand why at the recent CBC Competition for Amateur Choirs, they took top honours in the Mixed Choirs (University-based Adult) category and taking first prize in the 2004 CBC competition’s College choir division.