Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Voices of Aotearoa - Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir at Cadogan Hall

Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir, Karen Grylls, Horomona Horo
Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir, Karen Grylls, Horomona Horo
Hildegard of Bingen, Princess Te Rangi Pai, David Childs, Mark Sirett, Jean Absil, David Griffiths, Helen Fisher, Jaakko Mantyjarvi, Samuel Barber, David Hamilton; Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir, Karen Grylls, Cadogan Hall Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 30 October 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
The New Zealand based chamber choir in an eclectic programme which combined composers and sounds from New Zealand with those of other traditions

Choral at Cadogan on Monday 29 October 2018 brought visitors from New Zealand to the Cadogan Hall in the form of Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir, conductor Dr Karen Grylls whose programme brought a mixture of New Zealand, European and American composers, combined with the artistic talents of Horomona Horo who interpolated his own compositions and improvisations on Maori instruments throughought the programme. Besides Horo, the New Zealand composers we heard were David Childs, David Griffiths, Helen Fisher and David Hamilton, along with music by Hildegard von Bingen, Princess Te Rangi Pai (Fannie Rosie Howie), Mark Sirett, Jean Absil, Jaakko Mantyjarvi, and Samuel Barber.


The first section, Voices of Saints and Angels moved from Hildegard of Bingen to Princess Te Rangi Pai (a 19th century stage performer) to David Childs, with linking music from Horomonda Horo. For Hildegard's O viridissima virga, we started with Horo entering the auditorium playing a long horn-like instrument, and the women's performance of the Hildegard (supported by humming from the men) moved from unison to heterophony to create an interesting and effective arrangement.

Numbering 24 singers, Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir was founded by Dr Karen Grylls in 1998 (and is thus celebrating its 20th anniversary this year). The age range of the singers was quite wide, and the mixture of younger and mature voices gave the sound quality an interesting range of timbres and colours. Princess Te Rangi Pai's Hine e hine was a gentle, hymn-like lullaby setting her own Maori text. This group finished with the attractively melodic Salve Regina by the USA-based, New Zealand born composer David Childs, Childs' tonal music had quite a distinctive character, with definite hints of Poulenc in the harmonies.

Voices from the Earth moved from Canadian composer Mark Sirett, to Belgian composer Jean Absil (1893-1974) to New Zealand composer David Griffiths (born 1950). Sirett's setting of Ronsard, Ce beau printemps was quietly intimate, with suggestions of Morten Lauridsen in the harmonies. Jean Absil travelled to Paris in 1934 where he met Milhaud and Hongegger, and his Bestiare setting poems by Guillaume Apollinaire seems to partly reflect this milieu. The pieces were sung in French, with the English translations spoken before hand, interwoven with Horomonda Horo's improvisations. The five movements, 'The Dromedary, ' The Crayfish', 'The Carp', 'The Peacock' and 'The Cat', each had something of a comic sting in the tail, effectively set by Absil whose style seemed at once familiar and unfamiliar, with his use of melodic and harmonic effects from the music around him in Paris in the 1930s. The combination of humour with variety of musical form made these attractive pieces.

David Griffiths's choral song cycle, Lie deep my love was written in 1996 for the New Zealand National Youth Choir and sets three poems by James K Baxter. The three are serious contemplations of man and nature, and Griffiths style is suitably sober and intense, with some moments of lovely harmony. It was a well made piece, and was clearly repertoire which meant a lot of the choir. Whilst they invested a lot in the performance, the music itself did not quite make its presence felt as I would have liked.

For the second half we moved to Voices from the Deep. First we heard Pounamu by New Zealand composer Helen Fisher (born 1942). Setting a text based on a Maori proverb, Fisher's piece was quietly evocative, and gradually developed greater energy before evaporating. It was a rather striking piece, which combined the choral textures with a traditional pipe-like instrument.

Finnish composer Jaakko  Mantyjarvi (born 1963) wrote his Canticum calamitatis maritimae after a 1994 maritime disaster. The text, in Latin, combines Psalm 107 and elements of the Requiem Mass with a description of the disaster from Nuntii Latini, the Latin-language Finnish news service. For all the dramatic events depicted and the use of sound effects, Mantyjarvi's piece was in fact rather thoughtful and moving. His manipulation of a a huge variety of textures was masterly, and the music (with harmonies sometimes transparent and sometimes opaque) emerged out of the evocative textures.

Finally Samuel Barber's (1910-1981) To be sung on the water (extracted from his opera Anthony and Cleopatra) a small but lovely piees, where the men's voices provided a rhythmic backdrop for the lyrical melody from the women.

Voices of Stars and Lights opened with the one traditional Maori song which everyone knows, Pokarekare ana, a traditional love song here given a gentle and finely sung performance.  The final two items were both by New Zealand composer David Hamilton (born 1955). Karakia of the Stars sets a traditional Maori text. Hamilton created a striking atmosphere, combining the playing of temple bells, sounds, sound-effects and the playing of a traditional flute into a remarkable soundscape out of which arose some rather striking solos, particularly a striking strong soprano solo and a highly rhythmic moment (with stamping) for the men. We finished with Hamilton's setting of a text thought to be by the composer Alessandro Striggio, Ecce beatam lucem. Following a big, bright opening, Hamilton used repeating lines and motifs to create a dazzling rhythmic texture.

We were sent away with one final piece, not a New Zealand one but a French-Canadian piece, Sur le pont Mirabeau.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Die Walküre - Royal Opera House Live  - (★★★½) Opera review
  • Confidence: Julien Behr in 19th century Romantic French opera arias (★★★★★)  - CD review
  • Musical drama: Bellini's Norma with Helena Dix in the title role  - (★★★★½) - Opera review
  • New music in Manchester - I chat to Tim Williams, artistic director of Psappha  - my interview
  • A walk with Ivor Gurney: Sarah Connolly and Tenebrae at Wigmore Hall (★★★★) - concert review
  • Colour and movement: orchestral music by Kenneth Hesketh (★★★½) - CD review
  • Abbandonata: Italian cantatas from Carolyn Sampson and Robert King  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Vivid story telling: Schubert's Swansong with Sir John Tomlinson and Christopher Glynn (★★★★) - CD review
  • Music for Windy Instruments: Sounds from the court of King James I (★★★½) - CD review
  • Independent Opera Showcase Recital at Wigmore Hall (★★★½) - concert review
  • Damn fine music: Stanford's Mass Via Victrix (1914-1918) receives its belated premiere  - feature
  • A visit to Italy at the Oxford Lieder Festival (★★★★) - concert review
  • Untold riches - music from Estonia & the Baltic at the Oxford Lieder Festival (★★★★) - concert review
  • Southbank Sinfonia and Vladimir Ashkenazy in Grieg, Prokofiev and Beethoven (★★★★)  concert review
  •  Home

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