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Stephanie Martin CD Release

Location: Ontario, Canada
Choir type: Choirs with Religious Affiliation
One of Toronto's exceptional, under-the-radar classical musicians is Stephanie Martin, director of music at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, director of the Pax Christi Chorale and professor of organ, harpsichord and music history at York University. She is also an accomplished composer.

The latest fruit of her labours is a new disc that has her imprimatur all over it: Alleluia: Sacred Choral Works by Stephanie Martin. She is the composer, the conductor of the church choirs and the producer of the CD.

Martin and the choristers launch the disc at 3 p.m. today with a concert at St. Mary Magdalene, 477 Manning Ave. (at Ulster St.). Admission is $25. Besides a short concert, the afternoon includes the first screening of a new Bravo! video featuring the all-female Schola Magdalena choir.

I've listened to the disc a half-dozen times. It's a quiet, modulated treat. The magic in Martin's music is how it serves its intended purpose: to enhance the worship experience without intruding into it, and sound timeless without being totally generic.

There are no bold dynamics, no vocal trickery, to hey-look-at-me technical feats here, just carefully wrought close harmonies that pay homage to the Plainsong tradition and the emphasis of text over melody that are an integral part of the St. Mary Magdalene experience. The gentle push-and-pull between consonance and dissonance is very much also in the tradition of Healey Willan's musical legacy at the church, which Martin honours without being a slave to it.

As someone who has sung and worked in churches for most of my life, I have nothing but admiration for Martin's accomplishments.

There are straightforward anthems, such as "Hear My Prayer," settings covering specific liturgical needs, including the Ordinary of the Mass and the Kontakion, and tidy little motets such as "Ave verum corpus."

The choirs are beautifully balanced and delicately directed, providing a not-quite-of-this-world effect. I prefer my music and the way it is sung to be a bit more earthly, but Martin's selection of pieces for this disc comes together as a fantastic meditative break at the end of a stressful day or week -- whether or not you make any spiritual connection with the texts.