Unusual Passion music puts choir to the test

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Anomaly. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / “Passion Music”, Anomaly Choir. At CGGS Chapel, April 1. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD

ANOMALY Choir is Rowan Harvey-Martin’s new choral excursion, with the intent of performing lesser known and more unusual choral works.

For this concert she was conducting 16 singers with the addition of a soprano soloist, Sonia Anfiloff, and a jazz band performing “Passion Music” by English composer Will Todd.

“Passion Music” is the musical setting of nine short passages from the gospels illustrating the Passion of Christ, a musical form which Western composers have been using for centuries.

Todd has taken a different approach in combining elements of liturgical choral music with a jazz accompaniment.

Rowan Harvey-Martin. Photo: Peter Hislop

The choral sections show a wide variety of musical influences. Some have the feel of relentlessly modern church music, full of odd harmonies and little melody. Others sound like choruses from religious Broadway shows such as “Godspell” and a couple suggest some Carl Orff-like grandeur. A lot of it sounded vaguely familiar from the 1970s even though it is only a few years old.

Soloist Sonia Anfiloff. Photo: Peter Hislop

From the choir’s point of view it must have been great fun to sing, with some sections quite challenging. Most of the time they rose to those challenges with great skill, faltering only a little in the fifth section, “Stabat Mater”, where the choir sang unaccompanied and the writing was full of long, slow chords with hints of close Bulgarian harmonies. They did not quite pull that off, though the final part where soloist Anfiloff soared over the top were remarkably pretty.

Anfiloff’s contributions were confident and assured throughout, though sometimes a little overwhelmed by the choir and the band.

John Black at the piano. Photo: Peter Hislop

The jazz band was piano, bass, drums, timpani, sax, trumpet and trombone with some very tasty playing from pianist John Black,  whose work underlaid much of the musical backing.

This was an interesting and at times exciting Easter musical presentation and all the performers appeared to be enjoying themselves tremendously. It was a big sound when everyone was playing or singing though the balance got a little muddy at full throttle.

We can certainly look forward to the next outing from the Anomaly Choir.

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