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The love was heard, wonderfully well

VOCES8 perform with violinist with Jack Liebeck at Snow Concert Hall. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / Let My Love Be Heard, VOCES8 with Jack Liebeck. At Snow Concert Hall, June 21. Reviewed by SARAH BYRNE.

The song that occurred to me most often during his wonderful concert was one not on the program at all – Stephen Sondheim’s Putting It Together. 

VOCES8, an a capella octet from Britain, is a remarkable example of great and sometimes arcane artistry that has attained popular and commercial success through careful strategy. 

Around since 2005, and going through several personnel changes in those 19 years, the ensemble won a Grammy last year, have a considerable online presence, provide online choral resources and training, and have a composer-in-residence, arranger-in-residence, and even its own publishing house.

This was one of 100 concerts they will perform this season, and people in the audience around me had come long distances to experience it. They were not disappointed.

The program commenced with the intensely complex O Clap Your Hands by Gibbons, every voice separate but interlaced; a challenging and lovely thing and an impressive choice of starter. 

We then heard Dunphy’s beautiful Halcyon Days, a hat tip to Australia, with a beginning reminiscent of Shenandoah but then morphing into something much more original and modern, though just as gorgeous.

That was followed by a triptych of pieces: the eponymous Let My Love Be Heard by Runestad, And the Swallow by Caroline Shaw and Gjeilo’s Serenity. 

The pieces are linked by the theme of human responses to tragedy on varying scales, and here we heard VOCES8’s impressive control of dynamics. It was a pleasure also, in places, to hear the fine individual voices, without ever sacrificing the effect of the whole ensemble.

Joining them for Vaughan Williams’ evergreen A Lark Ascending was violinist Jack Liebeck. Compact and taciturn (at least on stage), Leibeck’s playing is as concise and exact as his person. 

This was gloriously chosen and arranged and delivered, with the violin less a soloist and more of a ninth voice in the ensemble, those final, exquisite aspiring notes fading into a long silence.

After the interval we were treated to equally stellar and meticulous performances of Smith’s Nunc Dimittis, Schütz’s Selig Sind die Toten and Rheinberger’s wonderful Kyrie in E flat. 

And then came the highlight of the evening, an altogether remarkable and absorbing arrangement of Bach’s Partita No 2. 

Having observed that the melodies of the Partita reflect other songs and choral pieces, VOCES8 has extrapolated some of those pieces and retrofitted them within Liebeck’s flawless execution of the Partita; sometimes one or a few voices as an accompaniment, and the full ensemble with choral interstices between movements. This is both fun and lovely, and felt very truthful to the original. 

Having brought the house down, Liebeck and the ensemble had mercy on the rapt audience and returned for an encore (some might say “settler”) of the Ave Maria. Literally a perfect ending to the evening. 

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