Passion music haunting and beautifully sung

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“The Little Match Girl Passion”. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Music / “The Little Match Girl Passion”, composed by David Lang, Luminescence Chamber Singers, All Saints Anglican Church, Ainslie, April 18. Reviewed by LEN POWER.

THE key word in the latest concert by Luminescence Chamber Singers is “Passion”. 

The main work, “The Little Match Girl Passion”, is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1845 story about a poor young girl who freezes to death while trying to sell matches to people who ignore her. American composer, David Lang, noted the similarity between the suffering of the girl and those who took no notice of her plight, and the format of Bach’s “Saint Matthew Passion” which set the passion of Christ against the neglect of onlookers.

The work was first performed in Carnegie Hall in New York City in 2007 and won Lang the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Music. It’s regularly performed in the United States but has only rarely been heard in Australia.

Dan Walker. Photo: Peter Hislop.

It’s a very atmospheric work, somewhat austere, and its appeal is in the atmosphere it creates rather than as an emotional experience. The five singers, AJ America, Veronica Milroy, Rachel Mink, Jack Stephens and Dan Walker gave a fine performance. The clarity, timing and balance between their voices were outstanding, producing a multi-layered sound that, at times, made it seem like there were more than five singers on the stage.

The first half of the program also had a Passion theme, focusing on the neglect of onlookers in the face of anguish. Music from the 16th and 18th centuries by de Victoria, Casali, Gesualdo, De La Rue and Handel implored us to see suffering and not ignore it. The works were well chosen and sung with great skill. De Victoria’s “O Vos Omnes” was especially haunting and beautifully sung.

The choice of works with a Passion theme was especially apt just after Easter. The Luminescence Chamber Singers excelled in performing these challenging works.

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Helen Musa
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