Fine performances in a ‘feast for ear and eye’

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Oriana Chorale. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Oriana Chorale, “Text/ure”, Canberra Girls Grammar School, May 15. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE.

WHEN poetry, music and visual art are put into the concert melting pot, success can be the only result.

This was especially so in “Text/ure”, in which a poem, “If I Could Have Given You A Note”, by award-winning Canberra poet, Sarah Rice, was given to six composers with Canberra connections. Each was commissioned to write a choral piece.

The poem had been written in memory of a close friend. It has the kind of sentiment that might be given lovingly, and not as a eulogy, at a funeral.

Setting poetry to music is not new – it has been happening for centuries.

Poet and artist, Sarah Rice. Photo: Peter Hislop.

What was new in “Text/ure”, was that Rice then drew images to reflect her take on each piece of music. All the images are abstract, but colourful and tasteful. Rice then created digital slideshows, with varying transitions, which were screened during the performances of all six choral works. In all, some 250 images were shown.

It was a risky venture, for it could have become something of a competition to see which was the best of the six compositions. But, with introductions given by the composers added to the performances of their works, embellished by the slideshow, any notion of a competition quickly became redundant. While all six were written for a capella singing, each was different and stylish, and stood firmly on their own merits.

The six compositions, in the order in which they were performed, were by Sally Greenaway, Judith Clingan, David Cassat, Dan Walker (who also is Oriana’s director), Quin Thomson and Phil Batterham.

Greenaway’s was in the traditional English style – reminiscent of John Rutter’s beautiful harmonies and expansive, soaring melodies, but with a subtle, jazzy feel.

Clingan’s was angular, with a mix of atonal and melodic elements in a reflective, impressionistic style.

Cassat’s was quiet and introspective, with a charming mix of modern and traditional harmonies.

Walker’s was rhythmic with some great dynamics, modern harmonies and a lovely softness at the end.

Thomson’s had lots of parts coming in and out, giving the piece a complex polyphonic effect, again with some attractive modern harmonies and a few subtly discordant, but pleasant, surprises.

And Batterham’s had traditional hymn and psalm-like harmonies that were perfect for a capella singing in a liturgical style.

But that was not all. There were other multiple settings, also sung a capella, of poetry from times past and present. The themes of the poetry and the settings were similar to the Canberra works, which put the new works into even more context.

Dan Walker and his Oriana Chorale gave fine performances of all works, with beautiful tonal structures, quite lovely balance, excellent entries and finishes, and well-controlled tempi and dynamics. At times, the sopranos struggled to reach the highest notes, but this did not detract at all from the performance overall.

At the end of the concert, Sarah Rice described the experience as a “feast for ear and eye”. It certainly was, and it underscored, once again, the wealth of talent across all art forms we have in Canberra.

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