|New London Chamber Choir - photo credit Andrew Moss|
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jan 30 2015
Bringing the jungle to life in contemporary choral music
Animals! The latest exploration by the New London Chamber Choir conducted by their new director Matthew Hamilton brought the jungle to life in the wonderful faded grandeur of Wilton's Music Hall. Birds, tigers, elephants all vied for room with bats and other animals.
On tonight's performance the NLCC is arguably one of the best amateur choirs in London. Founded in 1981 the NLCC attacks the music other choral groups might shy away from – actively seeking out the avant garde and commissioning new works. As recognition of this Pierre Boulez has been their patron from the mid 80's. They can often be heard on radio 3 and have appeared at the Proms.
The concert began with Judith Bingham's (1952-) setting of a fragment of W. H. Auden's 'The arrival of a few summer migrants' (1991) which uses the opening line as a chorus to verses containing lists of birds. 'Unpredictable but providential' was described by Hamilton as “the joy and celebration of the untamed [...] combining that with the opportunity to be onomatopoeic.” Here a chorus of birds chirped, trilled and clucked in a light-hearted and humorous way with a definite nod to the 16th century composer Clément Janequin.
|New London Chamber Choir and Matthew Hamilton in rehearsal|
photo credit Andrew Moss
Roberto Sierra's (1953-) 'Cantos populares' was written for the NLCC in 1983 and represents the composers childhood home of Puerto Rico. In this representation of villages and the jungle he incorporated folk and popular dance music. A drone from the men was layered with vocal castanets and scrapers, and the sighing of a breeze. Tight dissonance expanded into clusters in the second section with ascending scales all at different speeds. Finally the multi-rhythm of Caribbean party percussion became parrots and frogs as the fiesta moved off into the jungle.
Dropping back in time to the 16th century a small group assembled to sing three humorous madrigals by Adriano Banchieri (1568-1634). Part of a larger narrative set these three songs describe a nightingale, a dog, cat, cuckoo and owl, then finally the animals themselves 'sing' – barking, meowing, and birds calls. Very silly stuff – sung well, although they did look a little embarrassed.
The UK premiere of Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen's (1932-) 'Four madrigals from the natural world' continued the animal theme. Gudmundsen-Holmgreen was inspired by the poems of Australian Les Murray and his animals were brought to life not just by their calls but also describing their movements – the elephants ponderous and trumpeting, the bats fluttering through the air. The use of a drone sounding at times like a bullroarer or a didgeridoo added to the atmosphere. The final song was about a comet whose trailing tail of 'ahs' followed the woman walking into the sun.
The concert finished with 'Panda chant II' by Meredith Monk (1942-). Written in 1965 as part of a science fiction opera the repetition of the word Panda with its ritualistic stamping and clapping was a way for the people in the opera to joyously remember the world before the apocalypse. A clever programming choice, the dance elements harked back to 'The tiger' and the repetition of the word 'panda' was stylistically reminiscent of the bird names in the Bingham. A final scream – and the concert was over.
Billed as being only an hour long, the concert overran, despite one piece ('Le chant des oiseaux' by Clément Janequin) being cut from the programme. However since Bingham's birds overtly referenced Janequin's chirping and warbling perhaps this did not matter.
Currently you can hear an excerpt from the Gudmundsen-Holmgreen on the BBC radio 3 In tune (at 01:05:57) and then a conversation with Hamilton and more singing (Sierra and more Gudmundsen-Holmgreen from 01:17:30).
Reviewed by Hilary Glover
Elsewhere on this blog:
- Beauty and imagination: Robin Tritschler and Graham Johnson - concert review
- Clarity and rhythmic sublety: Granados Danzas Espanolas - CD review
- Spectacular but unfocussed: Tales of Hoffmann, HD broadcast from the Met - opera review
- Macbeth by design: EPOC at Central St Martin's - opera review
- Review of the reviews:Un Ballo in Maschera - opera review
- Bravura poetry: Nicholas McCarthy at Rhinegold Live - concert review
- Poised intelligence: Ralf Taal in Chopin - CD review
- Imaginative new choral music: A Multitude of Voices
- The Tempest restored: Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse - concert review
- Aspects of Enlightenment in Berlin: Mahan Esfahani & Norman Lebrecht - concert review
- Superb, but where's the meat? Jonas Kaufmann as Andrea Chenier - opera review