Walker comes through with a vibrant and fresh concert

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Oriana Chorale music director Dan Walker conducts “Autumn Landscapes”. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / “Autumn Landscapes”, Oriana Chorale. At Fitters’ Workshop, May 25. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN

THE concrete floor of the Fitters’ Workshop was strewn with autumn leaves and blankets amongst those leaves became the ground-level stage for “Autumn Landscapes”, a collection of music inspired by the impending winter, performed by the Oriana Chorale, one of Canberra’s leading a cappella choirs.

A brooding male hum created a fitting backing for the opening item, a setting by young Australian composer Joseph Twist of the Henry Lawson poem, “On the Night Train”.

There was a touch of intonation uncertainty early, but comfort levels were quickly reached and the resonance of the choir was solid and rich. Two Gustav Holst settings of English poems and two plaintive Samuel Barber pieces were well balanced throughout, excellent in dynamic contrast with clean, clear diction. The deep bass sound again set up a solid foundation that allowed sopranos, altos and tenors to soar beautifully above.

The comprehensive, printed program included biographical details of the composers as well as the text of the settings. These welcome inclusions certainly enhanced listening pleasure and provided an opportunity for greater understanding of the works.

Estonian composer Veljo Tormis began bracket 2 with his “Autumn Landscapes”. Again the choral sound was excellent with confident and true pitch and delicate balance and volume variation. Music director and concert conductor Dan Walker was particularly clear and definite and the choir responded to his meticulous approach with lovely phrasing and neat phrase endings.

The five, short pieces were powerful in their imagery. It was easy to feel the icy winds and the bleakness of the winter which no doubt prevails in Estonia. The sound that echoed around the hall as the final chord ended was terrific.

The choir spread out amongst the audience to create the sounds of animals and creatures that live in Kondalilla, a waterfall in a south-east Queensland rainforest. This was the first of two pieces by Australian composer Stephen Leek, now a resident of Canberra, and was eerily beautiful and well controlled despite the singers enjoying an element of intended phrasing freedom.

“Red Earth”, by contrast, speaks of the timelessness and fragility of the Olgas with the choir capturing the necessary sombre mood wonderfully. Bracket 2 ended back in Europe with the beauty and power of the “Northern Lights” portrayed by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo.

Besides being a passionate musical director Dan Walker is a gifted composer with commissions from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Gondwana.

Oriana Chorale at its Fitters’ Workshop performance. Photo: Peter Hislop

One of his works, “Midwinter”opened the final concert bracket. Again rich in imagery the lovely melodies of the text by poet Michael Dransfield featured the upper voices singing of the onset of winter then how the stars and planets above move in the sky oblivious to the earth’s seasons.

Finally, a beautifully sung song of colour, “The Bluebird” then “The Cloud”, a musical portrait of voices moving between and against each other, much as clouds move in the sky at different speeds.

An enthusiastic audience enjoyed this delightful hour of appealing music very much. Singing was disciplined with fine balance, lovely clarity of tone and an obvious joy in singing and mastering complex music. Well done to the Oriana Chorale and to Dan Walker, the new music director, for presenting such a vibrant and fresh concert.

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