Review: Toby and choir champion local talent

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The very talented Turner Trebles, photo Judith Crispin
The very talented Turner Trebles. Photo Judith Crispin
TOBIAS Cole and Canberra Choral Society are to be commended for their concert of music by Canberra composers at the Belconnen Arts Centre yesterday. Cole’s efforts to champion local musicians have endeared him to concert goers in Canberra.

Tobias Cole as a caterpillar. Photo Judith Crispin
Tobias Cole as a caterpillar. Photo by Judith Crispin
Joined by CCS Chorus, CCS New Voices, Kompactus, Luminescence Chamber Singers, Turner Trebles, accompanist Anthony Smith and soloist Brenda Potter, Canberra Choral Society filled the Arts Centre with music from ten local composers.

Ruth Lee Martin’s superb “Nunc Dimittis” began with CCS Chorus, from behind and beside the audience, delivering a serene pianissimo. Based on Scottish modal song, Lee Martin’s simple adagio featured legato passages and references to traditional sacred music. The very talented Turner Trebles, supported by Smith and Potter, gave noteworthy performances of new works by Sally Whitwell and Sally Greenaway.

The CCS Chorus later returned to delight the audience with Anthony Smith’s comedic “Mass” in Cuban style and Calvin Bowman’s choral setting of a Kenneth Slessor poem.

Daniel Brinsmead, a promising young composer, conducted Luminescence in a performance of his own work “Come Sleep”. This tasteful and serene piece, often reminiscent of Britten, was mature and balanced. Brinsmead has become popular in Canberra’s music circles and this concert ended with an encore of one of his earlier works. Special mention should also be made of Olivia Swift’s “Snow”, presented by Kompactus. Often evoking Penderecki, Swift’s elegantly constructed work featured kaleidoscopic harmonic fields and wide dynamic shifts. Kompactus performed Swift’s difficult unison lines and senza vibrato passages, with accuracy and sensitivity.

Stephen Leek’s works, “Ngana” and “Tabulam”, are also worth comment. A significant Australian composer, Leek’s extraordinary choral pieces were characterised by stamping, clapping, shouting and speaking. Despite the undeniable craftsmanship, the effortless mastery of Leek’s choral writing, I admit to feeling slightly uncomfortable at hearing them. In the ’80s and ’90s it was perfectly acceptable for white composers to draw heavily on Aboriginal language and colour – most often to create concert pieces for white musicians to play to white audiences. But in 2014 this practice seems increasingly awkward.

Full chorus, photo Judith Crispin
Full chorus,. Photo by Judith Crispin
Tobias Cole undeniably stole the show with his rendition of Martin Wesley-Smith’s “Caterpillar of Society” — a cabaret based on “Alice in Wonderland”.  The audience were helpless with laughter before a singing and tap-dancing Cole, in full caterpillar costume, supported by the CCS Chorus.

The highlight of the afternoon for me, however, was Alistair Noble’s “Walk Upon the Wind”. This mature composition, with its harmonic shifts and layered polyphonic textures, was performed with perfect artistry by Luminescence. Underpinned by just two chords, this work reminded me of Berio at his most elegant. I note the composer is presently working overseas – as so many of Australia’s finest musicians are — and I hope concerts like this, that champion our own local talent, will continue to pave the way for their return.

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