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Victoria vocal ensemble takes on two Tave(r)ners

IN CONCERT What: CapriCCio Vocal Ensemble: Taverner to Tavener When/where: Saturday, 7: 30 p.m., Christ Church Cathedral Tickets: Adults $25, seniors $22, students $10, 12 and under free. email choir@capriccio.
The CapriCCio Vocal Ensemble


What: CapriCCio Vocal Ensemble: Taverner to Tavener

When/where: Saturday, 7: 30 p.m., Christ Church Cathedral

Tickets: Adults $25, seniors $22, students $10, 12 and under free. email [email protected]; in person from choir members and at Ivy's Bookshop, Munro's Books, Long & McQuade, and the cathedral office (930 Burdett Ave.)

What: Pavel Egorov, piano

When/where: Saturday, March 17, 8 p.m., Knox Presbyterian Church (2964 Richmond Rd.

Tickets: $20. Call 250-592-6323; email [email protected]

For those of us who toil in the trenches of classical music, just keeping the names straight can be a chore. There was a whole family of composers named Puccini (including the one you know), another whole family named Piccinni, as well as composers named Piccioni and Piccinini. There were plentiful Schuberts, alongside Schuberth, Schobert and Schubart. There was a famous Schuman as well as the very famous Schumann. And there were more musical Bachs than there are stars on the American flag.

Among English composers, there is a John Taverner as well as a John Tavener, but fortunately they stand at opposite ends of music history: Taverner lived from about 1490 to 1545, while Tavener, born in 1944, is still alive (he was knighted in 2000). Both are particularly admired for writing sacred choral music of exceptional beauty and expressive power, and both are represented on the wide-ranging program being offered Saturday by the CapriCCio Vocal Ensemble.

Taverner's music represents a high point of sophisticated Renaissance vocal counterpoint, while Tavener's - spare, slowmoving, haunting - is usually placed under the heading "holy minimalism," alongside Gorecki's and Pärt's, and has always had a large crossover audience: as long ago as 1969, his Celtic Requiem so impressed the Beatles that he was invited to record it on their Apple label.

CapriCCio will perform two plainchant-based motets by Taverner, as well as Tavener's Two Hymns to the Mother of God (1985) and Song for Athene (1993); the latter, based on texts including the funeral service of the Orthodox Church, was sung at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997. The music of both Tave(r)ners benefits from a big, resonant space, making CapriCCio's regular venue, Christ Church Cathedral, ideal.

CapriCCio's program also includes a Bach motet, an "evening song" by Josef Rheinberger, and Mendelssohn's six Op. 79 motets for unaccompanied double chorus, each one associated with a particular church festival (beginning with Christmas).

The program will culminate in a major work by another living composer, a year older than Tavener: Morten Lauridsen, who lives in Los Angeles and is perhaps the most popular choral composer in the U.S. (In 2007, he received his government's highest artistic honour, the National Medal of Arts.)

CapriCCio will perform his vocal cycle Les Chansons des Roses (1994), based on French poems by Rainer Maria Rilke. "These exquisite poems are primarily light, joyous and playful," Lauridsen writes, "and the musical settings are designed to enhance these characteristics and capture the delicate beauty and sensuousness of the poetry." The last of the five movements, the folksong-like Dirait-on, is one of his most often-performed works - a genuine choral bestseller.

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The Russian pianist Pavel Egorov, in a professional career spanning almost 40 years, has given more than 3,000 concerts around the world and has recorded prolifically. He is highly respected at home - among many other honours, he was named a National Artist - and has taught at the St. Petersburg Conservatory since 1980.

In 2002, Egorov performed under the auspices of the Vancouver Chopin Society - he has friends in that city - and has since been an almost annual visitor to this area. He first performed in Victoria in 2006 and has returned twice, most recently in March 2010; he has performed in many smaller cities on Vancouver Island, too. On March 17, he returns to Victoria as part of a B.C. tour.

Judging from his recordings, Egorov's playing is unabashedly Romantic, full of expressive nuance, sometimes bold, always with a big tone that conveys a sense of depth and mass. His Victoria program, devoted to Romantic and early-20th-century music, plays to his strengths. The first half will comprise the Fantasiestücke, Op. 12, of Schumann, a composer to whom he is particularly close: he has edited Schumann's complete piano works, recorded most of them, and won prizes internationally as a Schumann player.

The second half will open with the first two scherzos and the Op. 68 mazurkas of Chopin, and conclude with five "poems" by Scriabin, including the late masterpiece Vers la flamme (Toward the Flame), Op. 72, a five-minute crescendo that, according to the late Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz, depicts the destruction of the world. Perhaps we should expect no encore.

[email protected]