Music / “Cries of Justice”. The Song Company. At Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest, February 13. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD
THE past year for the Song Company has been a turbulent time. There have been major financial difficulties, which have been overcome by generosity and negotiation and the Sydney-based vocal ensemble has now returned for its first performance of 2020.
There would seem to be a new structure within the ensemble itself, with the singers divided into principal artists, ensemble artists and associate artists, perhaps having something to do with the recent financial dramas. Any small professional artistic organisation can be just one grant application away from oblivion, but it is good that the Song Company has survived this crisis.
This first program for the year was a selection psalm settings from across the centuries. It opened with “Psalm 120”, the text and a fragment of the melody purportedly by King David himself.
It was presented with typical Song Company theatricality. Soprano Roberta Diamond entered quietly from a side door, the audience still talking amongst themselves. She stood on the stage for a few moments as the chatterers quietened and she began to sing. As she sang the other six singers and director Antony Pitts came on to the stage, but no-one really noticed them as the audience focused on the ancient melody.
Pitts immediately led the choir into a 16th century English setting of “Psalm 20” with all seven voices weaving in and out around each. At times there did not seem to be much going on, then all seven voices joined together for the final couple of lines of the text with the “A” of “Amen” lasting a minute of gloriously shifting harmonies.
The rest of the performance was a mix of more renaissance psalm settings, a couple from the late baroque, one from the late 19th century and another form Benjamin Britten, which started off sounding old, but became much more modern as it went along. It had shifts in pace and rhythm with harmonies which firmly placed it in the 20th century.
The final work was an early 19th century setting by William Knyvett of “Psalm 108”, which suggested a parish church of Jane Austin’s time with a slightly mischievous choir master. The ensemble broke into two groups of four singers, on either side of the stage facing each other, alternatively singing lines of the text. A sort of “Duelling Psalms”.
As we have come to expect from the Song Company under Antony Pitts’ direction, an entertaining and educational hour and a half of music, beautifully sung and engagingly researched and presented.