Review / Festive music moves beyond familiarity

A J America conducts Luminescence. Photo: Peter Hislop.

WHEN a music director steps beyond the boundaries of safety and familiarity in concert programming it always makes for an interesting and enlightening experience for the audience. 

In this charming and engaging concert, conductor A J America did just that. There was a mixture of the familiar, the unfamiliar and those that perhaps were known in a slightly different guise.

It was the familiar that opened the program. Singing from down the back, a boy treble began, unaccompanied, with the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City”. His was an excellent voice, singing the difficult range and note intervals effortlessly and accurately. Then at the front, Luminescence took over, continuing unaccompanied and with the conductor singing within the ensemble. This is a choir whose superb balance and rich harmonies were delivered with precision and warmth.

Then it was right into the lesser-known works. “Long, Long Ago” by the English composer, Herbert Howells, again unaccompanied, was sung in close harmony with that ethereal cathedral-like choral sound floating through All Saints’ beautiful architecture.

Adding to the variety were performances by the other choirs in the Luminescence stable. The Luminescence Children’s Choir, also unaccompanied, except for a hand drum, began with “Salva Nos, Stella Maris”, sung in Latin. This group of young people were nothing short of brilliant, especially in “Carol” by ANU School of Music graduate Patrick Baker, which he wrote in 2015. The relentless piano accompaniment leaves few clues of the vocal line but the choir tackled the challenge with assuredness. A splendid performance.

The junior choir, Little Lumi, under their conductor Emma Griffiths, also acquitted their role in this concert with confidence, singing three quite advanced songs for their years, including Benjamin Britten’s “New Year Carol”. Their young voices were in lovely balance, holding the tune and creating a warm, pure sound.

And that’s just a taste of what was presented in this truly delightful concert by the three Luminescence choirs. It was one of those concerts in which the music just washes over the audience, allowing it to escape the freneticism of the season.

The closing song brought back the familiar, with all three groups singing a calm and peaceful “The First Nowell” with some glorious harmonies and a blending of voices from young children to adults in a thoughtful arrangement that drew warm appreciation from the large audience.

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