Review / Oriana makes it a soaring birthday treat

Music / “The Triumphs of Oriana”, Oriana Chorale, University House, ANU, April 22. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD

THE soaring hall at University House was the venue for this 40th anniversary twilight concert by the Oriana Chorale.

The birthday cake – photo by Peter Hislop

The name of the ensemble was taken from the 1601 publication of “The Triumphs of Oriana”, a book of English madrigals by various composers in honour of Queen Elizabeth I. Fittingly, the first two pieces were from that collection, songs by John Bennet and Michael East. These were followed by two madrigals by William Byrd, whose work was not included in the “Triumphs”, but in the English madrigal tradition, if a little jauntier.

The next three works by Monteverdi were a shift in language and style. These were noticeably more complex and lush, marking the musical development from the Renaissance to the Baroque. After the English madrigals these are much more “modern” in style. There was then a temporal leap forward of a couple of centuries to a 19th century English composer, Robert Pearsall, an amateur musical antiquarian composer who was a madrigal enthusiast. His “Lay a Garland” was  a slow but interesting piece, but spoilt slightly by one of the tenors drifting off key.

Peter Young conducting the chorale, photo Peter Hislop

The next group of songs were in French, by Debussy and Saint-Saens. The Debussy work was two verses bridged by a delightful and unexpected chromatic line, while the three works by Saint-Saens were the highlight on the evening. The Chorale worked flawlessly as an ensemble and the repeat of the last line in the second work “Calme des nuits” was exquisitely beautiful.

Oriana have the benefit of a talented composer, Phil Batterham as one of the singers and his setting of a poem by another member, soprano Sarah Rice, was another highlight. A reflective setting of interesting words and an absolute cracker of a last chord.

The final section was a selection of choral dances from Benjamin Britten’s “Gloriana” and one by Gerald Finzi, another English composer of the first half of last century. The Finzi work sounded like a modern hymn one might encounter in a determinedly up-to-date Anglican church somewhere. All well done, but not as satisfying as the Saint-Saens.

The concert was over in a hour and the Chorale and musical director Peter Young were deservedly pleased with themselves at the end.

 

 

 

 

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