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Tuesday
Apr192011

Heaven knows it's hellishly good—Canberra Times

One Foot in Eden
The Oriana Chorale, conducted by David Mackay
St Paul's Anglican Church, Manuka, Saturday April 16.
Reviewer: Jennifer Gall

I greatly enjoy the care with which David Mackay constructs each program presented by the Oriana Chorale. The repertoire often presents old favourites balanced with less well-known works, and usually there is a bold exploration of new and demanding choral territory to test the singers. In this concert, it was Nicholas Maw's One Foot in Eden that provided the challenge. Positioned at the heart of the concert, Maw's setting of Edwin Muir's powerful poem resonated with the poet's contemplation of the balance between innocence and experience, creation and destruction, birth in paradise and the mortal round. The Oriana Chorale gave a memorable performance and anchored One Foot in Eden as the dramatic balance point of the concert.

Gerald Finzi is a composer who captures an essential equanimity and contentment in his depiction of English pastoral themes. The open modality of his settings create a spaciousness encouraging contemplative listening and the choir brought the lyrics to life, particularly in Clear and Gentle Stream with the basses and tenors singing a deliciously evocative phrasing of 'the fish lie cool in their chosen pool'. These songs were an interesting contrast to the three flower songs by Britten.

Claude Le Jeune's Reveci Venir du Printemps was sung with a gentler approach than many versions, inviting both singers and listeners to savour the 16th-century harmonies rather than bouncing from chord to chord. The delivery had a stately progress, building to a grand conclusion.

 

After interval, the choir performed Jan Sandström's setting of Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, creating a wonderful sound world, with the choristers and octet spaced in the nave to generate layers of harmony to fill the cathedral. The effect was quite mind-altering and had such a different impact to the original setting. Hail, Gladdening Light by Charles Wood made a good contrast to the first song complemented by the subsequent item, Harris's Faire is the Heaven.

Eric Whitacre's three songs, I hide myself in the first half with its electric, swerving dissonances; Go Lovely Rose and With a Lily in your hand after the interval were highlights of Saturday's concert. The tidal wash of the voices in Go Lovely Rose was followed by the more rhythmic third song. Ralph Vaughan Williams's Linden Lea as the concluding item on the program was a real treat recreating the composer's rural idyll with the smooth phrasing from the choir. I had not remembered how pleasing the distinctive timing is in this setting until hearing it again and relishing the well enunciated lyrics.

The beauty of Saturday's concert was the way in which the lyrics have continued to work in the memory through activation by the musical performance. This concert represents another fine musical gift from the Oriana Chorale.

Tuesday
Dec212010

Heroic Handel—Canberra Times

Handel's Messiah - the Oriana Chorale and Sinfonia conducted by David Mackay.

Reviewer: Jennifer Gall

For many, Christmas is not Christmas without a live performance of Handel's Messiah. As the oratorio unfolds, memories of past performances create a pleasant layer of familiarity and a source of comparison with the new version. The length of the work ensures that both musicians and audience experience a real journey and the challenge for the musical director is to find a way to encourage the listeners to find new insights into the musical narrative throughout the experience.

David Mackay seized the opportunity and used bold tempo variations to present a version of Messiah that was electrified with emotional tension from beginning to end. Richard Black's tenor solos - such rich, complex vocal shades! - were complemented beautifully by the Choir's disciplined dynamics and precise articulation in the important opening chorus And the Glory of the Lord. Jeremy Tatchell's performance from his first entry was thrilling. His delivery had the scary authority of one of God's right-hand archangels. The lively pace of Thus Sayeth the Lord and the two subsequent airs highlighted his vocal skill. At this speed, the shaking foundations described in the words became realistically frightening.

David Yardley matched the intensity of his fellow soloists with his performance. His version of But Who May Abide was sung with the feisty energy of a messenger who is going to make mankind sit up and listen carefully to the steely message enfolded in the clear purity of his vocal delivery. A real highlight was the choir's performance of For Unto Us a Child is Born. The exclamatory 'wonderful', 'counsellor', were conducted with great care to use dynamic emphasis to best effect creating a gentler mood for the soprano's entry.

Soprano Josie Ryan built the dramatic tension skilfully with her approach to the linked solos, reaching a glorious high note on 'peace' in Rejoice Greatly.

The Sinfonia shone throughout, bringing a lightness and spring to their playing with no loss of definition, particularly in the demanding continuo parts. At the beginning of the final Amen chorus, violinists Barbara Gilby and Rowan Harvey Martin introduced their parts in an exquisite, slow canon. At this speed, the harmonic layers of the choral parts rolled out like great ocean waves crossing each other and ascending into the cathedral. The effect was ravishing, the ear hanging on each note in anticipation of the next chord progression.

It has been a year of memorable music for the Oriana Chorale, and their performance of Messiah suggests that further new, inspiring musical interpretations will be heard under Mackay's baton in the year to come.

Tuesday
Oct122010

Chorale touches the heart—Canberra Times

Oriana Chorale: Alabaster

Reviewer: Jennifer Gall

How refreshing to hear a concert dedicated to significant choral music of the 20th and 21st century. David Mackay and the Oriana Chorale boldly embraced the challenging repertoire and provided the audience with a memorable aural journey through the music of Pärt, Tippett, Barber, Whitacre, Maclean, Copland, Howells, Jackson, Toch, Lauridsen and Mackay.

It was exciting and challenging to hear the labyrinthine chromatic writing and sparring rhythms of The Weeping Babe translated by the Oriana Chorale into rich and evocative choral colours. Tippett's music and Edith Sitwell's lyrics produced a decidedly edgy nativity carol, mediated through Emma Jenvey's soaring solo.

The exceptional power of music to penetrate beneath the surface of daily routines and strike at the heart is a reason why we attend performances of live music - to have our thought processes challenged and to be reminded of the inner life. In the company of musicians, time is redefined by sound, activity suspended and a profound form of communication established between audience and performers. The opening bars of Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium initially resonated in predictable harmonic progressions, and then, as the structure built with the growing intensity of the choral arrangement, I was ambushed by the composer's skill - the music triggering a powerful teenage memory of loss and consolation. I'm sure I was not the only listener to be moved by the afternoon's performance.

The male and female vocal parts in Samuel Barber's To be sung on the water cleverly established a sound pattern evoking ebbing and flowing ocean waves, and the choral interweaving was further surveyed in Clare Maclean's rhythmic explorations in Hope There Is. Ernst Toch'sGeographical Fugue was an invigorating performance in layers of spoken text, contrasting nicely with Whitacre's i thank You God for most this amazing day, the opening notes building the chords, bouncing from part to part, with Grace Chiu's sweet soprano stating the inner prayer. As if choreographed deliberately, the fading daylight created a palpable intimacy for Howells' A Spotless Rose, featuring a mellifluous solo by Geoffrey Brennan. The performance of David Mackay's Aedh wishes for the cloths of heaven gained in confidence as the ensemble found its balance with the organ. This marriage of Yeats's sumptuous lines with Mackay's setting shaped a shiver-down-the-spine experience.

Paul Eldon's baritone solo in Copland's Lark shone against the strong rhythmic energy of the ensemble. This was the stand-out performance, with the choir's combined voices achieving their potential. Mackay's musical direction is characterised by a warm and generous spirit, and what he gives out is returned by the Oriana Chorale as disciplined, courageous and joyful choral music.

Monday
Apr052010

Powerful performances of glorious works a special treat—Canberra Times

The Oriana Chorale, Songs of Sundrie Natures: Tudor and Jacobean Music by Tallis, Byrd, Tomkins and Gibbons.
St Paul's Anglican Church, March 28
Reviewer: Jennifer Gall

This concert was one of those rare occasions when it seems that the elements conspired to assist in elevating the music to another plane. The performance seemed to partly translate the golden autumn atmosphere and the anticipation of approaching Easter into music.

A well-balanced program offered sacred and secular works by the superstars of English Tudor and Jacobean music. Tallis's Third Mode Melody for Archbishop Parker's Psalter setting Psalm 2:1,2 as text opened the concert, the singers entering confidently with excellent diction. Throughout the demanding performance, the choir maintained the power of conviction in their singing, addressing the texts and music to the audience, animating the power of the words.

O Nata Lux, again by Tallis, was sung with sleek breath control and phrasing by each section of the choir, and the texture of the choral singing reached a climax in the Agnus Dei à4 by Byrd. Each vocal layer overlayed created a curtain of translucent sound - producing an extraordinary space that was partly human voices and part evocation of an unquantifiable spiritual dimension. The sacred works were the most assured performances in terms of rhythmic stability and secure intonation.

Of the secular works, How Great Delight by Tomkins reproduced this sensual text to great effect, cleverly juxtaposing contrapuntal sections, to empathise exquisite moments with powerful unison vocal lines such as 'how great delight from those sweet lips I taste'.

The final three works were exquisite. In Tallis's O Sacrum Convivium the performance activated an all-pervasive equanimity, the mystery at the heart of the Christian Blessed Sacrament. Byrd's O Quam Gloriosumdemonstrated expert interplay of each of the parts and the unique energy generated by this particular era in English liturgical music. Very fittingly, the masterpiece of the evening came at the conclusion, with the performance of Videte Miraculum by Thomas Tallis. With the choir divided into two ensembles, the choral sections were interspersed with quite otherworldly plainchant - contrasting the meditations of the individual with the communal expression of the choir. This really was one of the most extraordinarily beautiful pieces of sacred music I have ever heard performed.

As conductor David Mackay remarked, it seems to be an extremely rare piece of liturgical music, not performed often and as such we were among the most privileged souls who have heard these ancient and glorious sounds.

Wednesday
Dec162009

Voices of Angels: a Venetian Christmas—The Canberra Times

 

Presented by Oriana Chorale and UC Chorale
St Paul's Church, Manuka, 12 December 2009
Reviewer: Jennifer Gall

The lead-up to Christmas is famous for shopping frenzies and the dreadful music in shopping malls bombarding us with synthetic seasonal cheer. In contrast, the Venetian Christmas concert presented exuberant performances of well-loved works by Gabrieli, Schutz, Monteverdi and Vivaldi.
Tobias Cole conducted the two chorales and instrumental ensemble with vigour and passion. By positioning one choir in the organ loft and the other at the front of the church, we were treated to a stereophonic sound effect. From his position in the centre of the church, Cole enthusiastically gestured in two directions at once as the voices from both ends of the church washed around the listeners.
Cole is developing a reputation for immersing the audience in the total concert experience and this was no exception. A musical drill in the first half prepared us for our entry in the final work, Gabrieli's Hodie Christus Natus Est. There is nothing like the thrill of singing in a church filled with other singers, the building and all its inhabitants reverberating with harmony.
Gabrieli's Jubilate Deo was a confidant and exultant opening to the concert, with sparkling eight-part counterpoint. Heinrich Schutz's Deutsches Magnificat SWV 494 and Jauchzet dem Herrn SWV36, using the choirs' split configuration, provided a pleasing taste of German Christmas music.
The highlight of the concert was Vivaldi's Gloria, heralded triumphantly by Graeme Reynolds's trumpet. Tim Wickham led the chamber ensemble of two violins, viola, cello, bass and keyboard and skilfully negotiated the rhythmic contrasts of each section to sustain the fundamental dramatic tension in the work. Fellow string players Lathika Vithanage, Lucy Carrigy-Ryan and Alex Voorhoeve shone in the romping Domine Fili.
The two soloists, Amanda Stephens Lee and Katie Erland, created exciting music in their duet, Laudamus te, blending their very different voices so skilfully that the full contrasts of vocal quality were revealed dramatically in their solos. Erland sang with purity and delightful accuracy in her ornamentation - the voice of a Venetian angel. Stephens brought a rich sensuality in the phrasing of her solo performance of Domine Deus, demonstrating the depth of her vocal abilities.
To conclude the concert, the choirs, musicians and audience joined forces in Hodie Christus Natus Est, underpinned by the satisfying growling notes of Justin Bullock's double bass and the luscious throb of St Paul's organ played by Adam Cook.
Toby Cole can be well pleased with his contribution to Canberra's music-making this year. Through his irresistible fervour he has brought audiences, musicians and dead composers to life by lifting the notes off the page and sending them into the hearts and minds of many.