Review / Choir turns in a fine performance

Music / Oriana Chorale. “A Voice from Heaven”. At Fitters Workshop, Kingston, December 9. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD

THE Oriana Chorale returned to the Fitters’ Workshop for its final concert  for 2018. Under the direction of guest conductor Matthew Stuckings, the chorale performed a program of mostly religious-based music with its usual precision and enthusiasm, both helped and limited by the venue.

The Fitters’ Workshop space is such an acoustically stimulating space to be in. It has a “crackle” to the atmosphere like some ancient European cathedral. The cut at the end of a piece of music hangs in the air for seconds and this was used to great effect during the concert. The limitations are the sightlines, or lack of them, and the fact that the sunlight streaming in the windows on a 30°C day made a third of the room uninhabitable.

The tone of the concert was set with the opening work by William Byrd, “Ne irascaris Domine. It was great washes of sound, balanced and crystalline in its clarity. An endearing aspect of the Oriana Chorale is that it inevitably includes in its programs a work that stretches its musicianship.

For this concert it was a modern reworking, by Scottish composer James MacMillan, of the well-known “Miserere” by the 17th century Italian composer Gregorio Allegri. This is a more complex work than the Byrd, with several solo parts, all well sung by various choir members, but there was an uncertainty at times from a couple of the male singers which detracted a little.

All was forgiven with the delightful “Mass in A minor”by English composer Imogen Holst. Written in 1927, when Holst was but 20 years old, this was its Australian premiere. The work links back to much earlier church music, while at the same time is of its period of 20th century English music. A most satisfying performance.

As with the first half, the second opened with a piece from Tudor England, this time “Audivi vocem de caelo venietiem” by Thomas Tallis and this was as enjoyable as the William Byrd. This was contrasted with another more modern work by a NZ composer Clare Maclean. This was setting of two poems by NZ poet James K Baxter, with some very clever scoring. At one point the melody was carried by the basses with  the sopranos hovering and shimmering above. The ending was simply glorious.

The concert ended with “Five English Folk Songs” arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams. A simple and enjoyable way to end a fine concert from this choir with the inventive and well crafted program by Matthew Stuckings.

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