2008-2009 Season

Praetorius Project: An Early Christmas Mass

This Season: Camerata Nova and Canzona are joining forces to produce the Mass for Christmas Morning by Michael Praetorius

Canzona is made up of some of the finest choral singers and soloists in the province and is committed to bringing Baroque Masterworks to Manitoba audiences. The works of J. S. Bach have been the mainstay, but those of Handel, Vivaldi, Zelenka, Scarlatti, and Purcell are also in the repertoire. Canzona has brought a number of premiére performances to local audiences – notably, Requiem by Campra, the Swedish Mass by Roman; and the Vespers of 1744 by Nicola Porpora, which had a very successful premiere performance here last season.

Canzona continues to enjoy what has become a long-standing relationship with the MusikBarock Ensemble. The latter, under the direction of Eric Lussier, has given numerous outstanding performances of Baroque instrumental music; and is a supportive collaborator with Canzona.

In the spring of 2008 Canzona stepped ‘outside the (Baroque) box’ to record the choral works of Winnipeg composer, Robert Turner. This CD is scheduled to be released in October.

For this season another collaboration has been struck. We are delighted to announce that Camerata Nova and Canzona are joining forces to produce the Mass for Christmas Morning by Michael Praetorius.

Concert 1/2: Mass for Christmas morning, Michael Praetorius (1571-1621)

8:00 PM – Wednesday, November 26
8:00 PM – Thursday, November 27
Crescent Fort Rouge United Church

Praetorius’ Mass for Christmas Morning will be a joint production on a grand scale. For this production Camerata Nova, another front-running Winnipeg early music ensemble, will join forces with Canzona. This fascinating four-choir work comes directly out of the multi-choir tradition established years earlier by the Gabrielis in Italy. It consists of distinct families or groups of instruments and voices that provide a vast array of vocal and instrumental color and contrast throughout.

Cornettos and sackbuts will make up the brass choir, contrasted by recorders and dulcimer, strings, organ and theorbo. An array of solo singers and styles of solo song will compliment the rich choral textures of the late Renaissance. Several familiar hymns, incorporated into the work, will call on the audience to join the combined choirs and the ‘band’ of players in a unique opportunity to be part of the performance experience.

Works like this are rarely performed even in centres where the performers on these special instruments are available because of the many component parts required. That makes it all the more special and unique for both organizations to present a ‘production’ of the Mass for Christmas Morning.

Concert 3: Mass in b minor, J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

7:00 PM – Sunday, April 5, 2009
Westminster United Church

Bach’s Mass in b minor is one of the towering masterpieces of all time. It never ceases to amaze us that this large-scale work was written in small units over a period of more than two decades…some for very specific purposes, i.e. Sanctus (the first to be written) for Christmas Day in 1724. Yet the b minor Mass as we know it today, was assembled only in 1747, is remarkably unified. The complete work was never performed by Bach (or anyone else) in his lifetime.

The wide range of instrumental color created by the choice of many different solo and paired instruments in the vocal solo arias; the diverse styles in the choral movements with their masterful fugues and their forward-driving motion; and the orchestra punctuated by brilliant passages for the three trumpets, are but some of the features that create numerous climactic moments throughout. It is truly a work of genius.

As always, MusikBarock Ensemble will join Canzona for yet another choral-orchestral collaboration.


Marni Enns, soprano
Kirsten Schellenberg, alto
Robert MacLaren, tenor
Victor Engbrecht, bass


“Bach Mass in B Minor a virtuoso performance”

“(Conductor Henry Engbrecht) has provided this city with yet one more extraordinary choral group. Of the 20 singers, no less than 12 had solo parts, and each was uniformly excellent.”

5 out of 5 stars
Neil Harris
Winnipeg Free Press, December 14, 1993

Concert 4: G.F.Handel: Messiah

2:30 PM – Sunday, March 16, 2008
Whitewater Mennonite Church
Boissevain, Manitoba

Manitoba’s own Baroque choir ensemble Canzona directed by the renowned choral director Henry Engbrecht has excelled in performing numerous well known Baroque choral gems such as Messiah as well as lesser known works. Maestro Engbrecht’s specialization in the choral performance and his love for the music from the Baroque period has led to quality authentic performances of various vocal pieces from the 18th century. Under his artistic direction, Canzona has established a standard highly praised among conductors, critics and musical scenes in Manitoba and Canada. Canzona has been fortunate over the years to have the professional collaboration with Manitoba’s own Baroque orchestra – Musik Barock under the artistic direction of one of the best harpsichordists in Canada, Eric Lussier.

The masterful choral work Messiah has become perhaps the most performed sacred choral work for over 250 years. This Baroque masterpiece is now a favorite perennial work in the general classical music world, usually associated with the Christmas season. Rightly so, it contains all the elements that are celebratory of Christ’s birth. However, its original composition was intended for Passion week.

Although George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) lived most of his life in England, oddly enough, his most popular musical work, Messiah, was performed in Dublin, on 13 April 1742. Handel had been successful in staging Italian operas in London for nearly 30 years. But it was during the tumultuous early 1730s that his main opera competitor “Opera of the Nobility” began to rival Handel’s own “The Royal Academy of Music”. The Opera of the Nobility achieved the ultimate vocal coup de grace when they secured the services of none other than Farinelli (the most famous of all castratos).

By the mid 1730s, London audiences were no longer stimulated and were not prepared to support both rival houses. Handel, however, was already organizing performances of his oratorios at Covent Garden, using the same mixture of Italian and English singers heard in his recent opera productions.

Charles Jennens (1700-73), a literary scholar and editor of Shakespeare’s plays, provided Handel with the libretto for Messiah. The libretto was designed and selected from the New and Old Testaments with the highest care by Jennens. Jennens also provided Handel with additional English-language libretti – Saul, L’Allegro, Belshazzar as well as Messiah. According to Jennens, Handel had planned to do nothing in the winter of 1742, but Jennens was able to “perswade” Handel to set a scripture collection to be performed during Passion week. This scripture collection was Messiah. Handel composed the musical setting for Messiah in a rather short time frame. Handel began the composition of Messiah in London on August 22nd 1741 and completed 250 pages of the original autograph by September 14th. Three weeks is a rather remarkable achievement, but this meteoric composition rate was a normal habit of Handel’s. Incredibly, after completing the original Messiah autograph, Handel set out to compose his next oratorio, Samson, and completed the score in a month.

After having received an invitation from Lord Lieutenant in Dublin, Handel departed for Ireland in November 1741. Handel presented a full season of oratorio performances in Dublin including Alexander’s Feast, Acis and Galatea, the Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, L’Allegro and the first performance of a new sacred oratorio – Messiah, which was held on April 13th 1742. Messiah was well received in Dublin. It should be noted that Handel did not perform the work for his own benefit, but proceeds from the performance were shared by the Society for Relieving Prisoners, the Charitable Infirmary and Mercer’s Hospital. About 700 people attended New Musick-Hall (600 capacity) for the first performance of Messiah. The first performance was so well received that in order to accommodate the large crowds, the charity organizers issued a request in the newspapers that for the performance the ladies of the audience should not wear hooped dresses, nor the men swords, in order to make more room.

Although Messiah and Samson are two very different oratorios, it was the success brought about by the these two works that marked a turn around for Handel’s decision to concentrate his efforts more fully on English sung oratorios. After his return to London from Ireland, Handel gave no more Italian works or full-staged, acted performances. Messiah and Samson were the type of oratorios that had solidified his path for his future success.

Messiah is a special oratorio not only judging from the textual message, but also its uniqueness in that it tells a story with no characters involved. In contrast, Handel’s other oratorios such as Samson, Alexander Balus and Joshua contain biblically based characters that tell a story. Although Messiah conforms to the conventional operatic forms of recitative and aria performance, the story is told in narrative form, almost obliquely.

Messiah was subjected to a number of revisions over 17 years. This came about as different circumstances were encountered: casts of singers, geographical location as presented by various orchestral forces.

For this performance Maestro Engbrecht follows the general pattern of Handel’s performances of Messiah. Baroque practices are closely followed in terms of dynamics and phrasing and orchestral forces involved.


“Messiah music memorable”

“Twelve singers had solos, and they were all splendid. Equally amazing is that conductor Henry Engbrecht has been able to take these soloists and blend them into a beautifully integrated choral ensemble. It is a tribute to his musicianship and the singers’ unselfish commitment to this great music.”

5 out of 5 stars
Neil Harris
Winnipeg Free Press, April 4, 1995