Les Rhapsodes and soloists shine at the Palais Montcalm

The Palais Montcalm was filled with the joy of the season at the Christmas concert of Les Rhapsodes choir, directed by David Rompré, on Saturday night. The ambitious program included five soloists, a string ensemble and organist Marc D'Anjou at the console of the Casavant organ. Throughout the concert, the 45 members of the Choeur les Rhapsodes performed magnificently, their timing, diction and tone impeccable. The first part of the concert featured the choir unaccompanied singing a selection of French Christmas carols, among which were "Écouter ces bruits de fête," a Renaissance piece "Allon, gay bergères" by Guillaume Costeley, and a traditional Christmas piece, "Nous étions trois bergerettes." Marc D'Anjou's organ solo of Charles-Marie Widor's Symphony no.6, opus 42, No. 2 showed the Casavant organ at its full, symphonic potential. Spectators felt they were transported to a different place. "When I closed my eyes, I could see my imagination going wild along with the music. There was nothing else in the room but the mesmerizing organ music," said one audience member. "It was intense." Saint-Saëns' Oratorio de Noël was reserved for the second part of the concert. A string ensemble and five soloists joined the choir and D'Anjou on the organ. (The three female soloists wore elegant gowns of complementing reds and green - for Christmas of course.) Jessica Latouche, soprano, Élaine Rioux, alto, Guy Lessard, tenor, and Pierre Rancourt, baritone, sang the second movement, "Et pastores errant," joined by the choir in "Gloria in altissimis Deo." Mezzo-soprano Nathalie Dumont continued with "Expectans expectavi." The ninth movement of the work, "Consurge, filia Sion," included all the artists - soloists, choir, organ and orchestra. The final and familiar choral "Tollite hostias" concluded the work. Each movement of the work flowed seamlessly into the next.Saint-Saëns' Oratorio is a very accessible work, and the audience clearly appreciated its easy, lilting melodies (especially in the prelude) and exquisite harmonies. They insisted the choir and musicians return for an encore. "I thought it went really smoothly," said conductor David Rompré after the concert. "The choir was in a state of grace." (Indeed, one of the baritones was heard saying he'd been "feeling Zen" all evening.) Many of the audience members leaving the concert hall shared his opinion, saying it was "the best" concert they'd been to in a long time. The concert program described composer Camille Saint-Saëns as a child prodigy who, at the age of 11, gave his debut public recital of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 and Mozart's Concerto No. 15. He composed the Oratorio de Noël when he was 23 years old. The fame and recognition he received in his early years and as a result of his performances continued until his death in 1921 at 86 years of age. Les Rhapsodes will give concerts at the Palais Montcalm in March and May 2015. For further information, visit the choir's website at www.lesrhapsodes.com.