Highly textured harmonies that defy description

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The Song Company in Albert Hall. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Music / “Burden of Truth”, The Song Company, Albert Hall, June 10. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

FEW contemporary pieces of music last as long as “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”, by English composer Gavin Bryars. This work has harmonies that are so rich, they defy description.

The Song Company featuring The Oriana Chorale directed by Dan Walker, performed new and older works in the Albert Hall last night. They were “Transiens”, by Antony Pitts, a new 25-part choral motet, three shorts works and for the 50th anniversary of “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”, by Gavin Bryars, a choral version that was a world premiere.

With an emphasis on repetition for this concert, it began with “His Love Never Failed Me Yet”, by James M. Black (1856-1938). From in the vestibule of the Albert Hall, the Song Company sounded out this work from this American hymn composer, creating a distant and celestial sound.

The singers then entered the hall in straight lines between and around the audience. They were led by Antony Pitts who conducted along the way. This 40-strong choir then situated themselves around the front of the stage. They performed the melody of “Jesus Autem Transiens” by Robert Wylknson, who flourished around 1500. The choir’s volume and sound quality were quite magnificent, and all dressed in jet black, visually stunning.

The collective subtlety and focus on William Byrd’s “Ave Verum Corpus” that followed created a serene atmosphere.

Antony Pitt conducts the Song Company. Photo: Peter Hislop.

After a short technical issue with the loop of the unknown homeless man in London who sings his song of hope that inspired this work, the transcendental and deeply moving “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”, by Gavin Bryars, began.

This incredible piece never fails to move anyone who hears it. Like with the original version, in this choral form, as new sections came in, so did the groups of singers. Moving around the hall, small groups of singers came in and out, creating a striking spatial effect.

This aspect of the singing was not just well thought-out, it added so much to the performance aspect of the concert. As this work builds and builds, it cuts deeper into the listener. With Pitts conducting, he gave movement directions for the groups and drew an expressive warmth from every singer.

The highly textured harmonies in this piece were astounding as the groups and soloists moved around. As the old man on loop came in and out during the work. It was hard to tell if this was intentional or an issue with the audio, but it was a truly astounding experience.

“Transiens”, a world premiere by Pitts, is based on the music of the Eton Choir Book. Inspired by a road trip from Uluru to Kakadu early in 2020, this work started with almost no break from the last. It seemed to be purposely connected. Sounding like an ancient motet at times, this piece after the Robert Wylknson work, in 25 parts, crossed a lot of polyphonic territory.

The glorious sound of this large choir came into their own during this work. While a contemporary piece, it held an ancient sound. Again, the singers crossed the floor for different parts. So full, rich and complex was this piece that it probably should be considered a major new Australian choral work.

Well done to Antony Pitts and to every singer. Despite a slight hitch, this was a concert of the highest quality. The standing ovation proving that it was.

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