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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.


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.


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.

Oriana Chorale in Gunning

Focus Group members and guests at the recent Sunday afternoon concert in the Gunning Courthouse by the Oriana Chorale were treated to a wonderful session of unaccompanied singing.  Larger than life conductor Tobias Cole provided an introduction to the various items on the program before launching enthusiastically into the conductor's role.  He made a carefully toned down translation of the piece "Matona mia cara" in which a German soldier serenades his love below her window, promising that his manly prowess would bring her a night of sensual delight!

The "Hymn to St Cecilia" was most beautifully wrought by the nearly thirty strong a cappella choir.  St Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians and each voice had the opportunity to shine.  The words were from a poem written by W H Auden who met the composer Benjamin Britten in the US during WWII.  Britten started composing this piece in 1942 and finished it aboard the ship MS Axel Johnson as he returned to England.  In a curious twist that perhaps reflects our current disquiet with terrorism, on an earlier attempt to return to England, all his manuscripts were confiscated by Customs officials because they thought it could all be in code, a wartime concern.

The rather sombre black attire of the choir members formed a sharp contrast to the satorially splendid striped shirt and enormous cuffs of the charismatic conductor Tobias Cole.  A treat for the ear and the eye!  The encore was a fantastical delight with no words, just a series of musical sounds that rippled along interspersed with loud shouts of "Hey" - the audience delighted in it.  If the choir returns to sing for us again - make sure you don't miss the treat.


Carolling chorale caresses a land of dewdrops and spiderwebs—The Canberra Times

By Sarah Parkes

Christmas in Australia brings cackling kookaburras, cool drinks and hot sticky days, but we still sing about dashing through the snow and Frosty the Snowman.

Now it's time for Australia to come into its own and celebrate its own traditions, according to the Oriana Chorale.

A crowd full of children gathered at the National Museum yesterday to hear the chorale unveil four carols adapted from Australian poems by Australian composers. The result was catchy melodic tunes that represent the warm weather, native wildlife and national traditions.

Two of Michael Leunig's poems feature in the carols - What Did You Get on Christmas Morn? and Christmas – to settings by Melbourne composer with organist Calvin Bowman.

Sydney composer Matthew Orlovich adapted a James McAuley poem for the carolNativity.

" McAuley's Nativity is a world of dewdrops and spiderwebs, tender snails' horns and a bare attentiveness of the heart, a world where everyday things become breathtaking and extraordinary," he said.

Orlovich's second carol opens with the familiar laughter of kookaburras. Adapted from a Pat Edward poem, it is called If Christ Had Been Born in Another Time.

Oriana music director Tobias Cole said he wanted to see the songs become a part of Australia's Christmas identity. "We need to think about what is the Australian style and what captures the expanse of Australia.

"In Matthew's work there's a kind of continuum, it's very evocative, it creates an atmosphere, a spell, a kind of timelessness just by a repetition of certain things and subtle changes – maybe as the cloud is moving towards the sun or there is a change in the colour of the sunset."

Mr Cole believes the melodies will get stuck in people's heads. "Audiences will find these pieces refreshingly accessible in harmony, rhythm and meaning. They just call out for participation.

"It's just a gradual process and it is Australia growing up and just trusting our own."

The songs will be recorded and played on ABC radio around the country.