Review / An uplifting concert of Luminescence

Music / “Americans in Paris”, Luminescence Chamber Singers. At the Drill Hall Gallery, Sunday, February 25. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY

Luminescence. Photo by Peter Hislop

ECHOING strongly in the Drill Hall Gallery, Luminescence began with works by Nadia Boulanger, who along with the music of her students was the focus of this concert titled “Americans in Paris”.

Sitting up close to a group of singers who offer such a range of musical intimacy and profound vocal qualities might just be the greatest musical experience that can be realised. The line-up of these eight young singers with two female voices on both ends and the males in the middle created a unique stereo effect that made their singing more enjoyable and defined.

The singers were, AJ America, Patrick Baker, Cody Christopher, David Faraker, Veronica Milroy, Olivia Swift, along with guest singers Josephine Gibson and Thomas Liu and Ella Luhtasaari on piano.

One of Boulanger’s first students was Elliot Carter, his short song “Heart, not so heavy as mine”, after an Emily Dickinson poem about the power of music had a stunning humming section by two of the female singers that gave the piece a mystical and otherworldly texture.

The “Four Motets” by Aaron Copland all based on religious texts, while beautifully performed lacked a depth of clear composition for voice in the first two movements. However, in the following sections, the counterpoint grew to create a poignant offsetting of voices in these mellow songs.

In Peggy Glanville-Hicks’ “Pastoral”, just the four female singers shared the stage for this rarely heard song. Through some clashing harmonies at times, all on purpose, and mostly up high, the voices cut through the air and that created an interesting work.

Louise Talma’s “Holy Sonnets” was a setting of the English poet John Donne’s verses in three movements. This seemingly even and sedate work had several unique and exciting moments that showed the talents of someone who understood how to write for the broader possibilities of the human voice.

Elliott Carter’s “Musicians Wrestle Everywhere”, after another poem by Emily Dickinson lived up to its whimsical title. The singing bounced from voice to voice and then combined in a wonderful vocal unison.

Next were five selected songs by Nadia Boulanger. It was a real treat to get to hear the individual voices of some of the members of Luminescence accompanied on piano by Ella Luhtasaari. AJ America sang “Soleils Couchants”. Her stunning voice in its range and power made this song the best of the night. Veronica Milroy sang “Cantique”, which had a reflective and sad tale to tell. Milroy’s voice is clear, penetrating and effectively rendered. All songs showed Boulanger’s divine impressionistic style.

Irving Fine’s setting of six love poems by Ben Jonson titled “The Hour Glass” came next and it was a journey through a diverse range of musical styles; all singers had fun with these wily songs.

Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” arranged by Christopher Clapham was suitably playful with several outstanding solos that got the whole group moving. Then, an encore of a Boulanger song brought back a church choir-like uplifting experience in a concert that pleased on so many levels.

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