Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Review: Grief to Joy, Music For Easter

City Choir Dunedin, 7 April 2018. (Photo: Carlos Silva)
Grief to Joy, Music for Easter
Saturday 7 April 2018, Knox Church

City Choir Dunedin opened their 2018 season on Saturday evening with a varied and engaging programme of music for Easter. Led confidently by music Director David Burchell and accompanied on the organ by Douglas Mews the choir began with Verdi’s setting of Stabat Mater Dolorosa. Beginning perhaps a tad too enthusiastically the choir soon found their voice settling nicely into Verdi’s vivid depictions of the Crucifixion. While in some sections the choir seemed unsure of the specifics of Verdi’s more complex harmonies, in others, particularly some of the more lamentful sections, they achieved a pleasing warmth of tone.

Following this the audience was introduced to the guest choir for the evening. The Main Street Singers hail from Los Altos High School in the San Francisco Bay area. The Choir have been doing annual international tours for many years and this year’s brought them to New Zealand and Tonga. Their first bracket contained three works by American composers juxtaposed with a 16th century Madrigal and an African American Spiritual. While their performance of John Bennet’s Weep, O Mine Eyes at times lacked the clarity and confidence demanded by complex renaissance polyphony, their other works were executed sensitively and effectively with the moving Felices Ter by Randall Thompson a particular highlight.

Following this the City Choir returned to sing Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice by Gerald Finzi. For this the choir’s forces were augmented by soloists Benjamin Madden (Tenor) and Malcolm Leitch (Bass) who sang not just the solo roles but in the choir throughout. This was a masterstroke and greatly secured the smaller Tenor and Bass sections of the choir that in turn led to a more confident and well blended sound overall. Finzi’s setting of the text by Richard Crashaw is at times both powerful and sensitive and the choir proved adept at portraying both with the support of Douglas Mews from the Organ. The solos from Madden and Leitch as well as Caroline Burchell (Soprano) from the choir were effective and provided an excellent contrast to the powerful and moving central section of the work.

The second half began with a second bracket of songs from the Main Street Singers. This bracket included a similar selection to the first beginning with energetic and contrapuntal Cantus Gloriosus by Josef Swider and ending with two enthusiastically received spirituals. Overall the choir proved themself an impressive group of young singers evidenced both through the high level of proficiency in the singing and the impressive quality of their soloists. Their commitment to contemporary repertoire must also be noted and commended (although the fact that of five original 20th century compositions none were by women must be questioned).

The evening was concluded with Bach’s Cantata 66 ‘Erfreut euch, ir Herzen’ for this the City Choir were again joined by Madden and Leitch as well as Claire Barton (Mezzo-soprano) and a small, seven piece chamber ensemble from the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra. The opening chorus was declamatory and effective as the choir implores the audience to “rejoice” at the news of Christ’s resurrection. This was followed by a series of arias which displayed the virtuosity and tone of voice of the three soloists. The DSO ensemble was effective throughout with the pair of oboes dazzling in the opening chorus, a beautiful Violin obligato solo complementing the voices of Barton and Madden in the final aria. The final chorale was a fitting if brief conclusion both to the cantata and the concert.

By Nathaniel Otley, The Wave, 10 April 2018

Nathaniel Otley is a third year Music Student at the University of Otago studying Performance Violin and Composition. As a singer Nathaniel has sung in roles for both Opera Otago and Little Box of Operas. He has also sung in choirs including the New Zealand Secondary Students Choir and is a current member of the New Zealand Youth Choir.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Grief to Joy, Music for Easter

Grief to Joy, Music for Easter
Saturday 7 April 2018, 7:30 pm
Knox Church, 449 George Street, Dunedin

CLAIRE BARTON, mezzo-soprano
DSO ensemble

City Choir presented music to celebrate the hope and renewal that is the promise of Easter.

We welcomed the Main Street Singers from Los Altos, California, and their director and conductor, Mark Andrew Shaull. The Main Street Singers contributed a selection of choral music to the programme. Currently celebrating the ensemble's Thirty Third Anniversary Season, the Main Street Singers continues to perform a wide variety of works, ranging from Renaissance to Contemporary. The acclaimed group's accomplishments have been earmarked by consistently high caliber of repertoire, performed with expressive skill and musical nuance. 
Main Street Singers

City Choir Dunedin performed three works:

Bach's Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen (Rejoice, your hearts) is a cantata composed for the second day of Easter, and first performed in 1724. Bach structured the cantata in six movements, an exuberant choral opening, a set of recitative and aria for bass, another such set for alto and tenor, and a closing chorale taken from the medieval Easter hymn Christ ist erstanden. The music expresses moods of mourning and fear which should be overcome, but especially exhilarating joy. A string ensemble from the DSO will join the organ for this work.

Guiseppe Verdi's Stabat Mater (1896) is a 13th-century Catholic hymn to Mary, which portrays her anguish and suffering as Jesus Christ's mother during his crucifixion. Verdi used his operatic skills to set the drama of Christ's crucifixion, mirroring the words with the full chorus thundering anger at the crucifixion. The mood changes at the end where the high voices sing an ascending pattern in the sublime closing Paradisi gloria.

Lo, the full, final sacrifice is a festival anthem for choir and organ, composed by Gerald Finzi in 1946. The anthem's text memorializes the celebration of the Eucharist. Regarded as some of Finzi's finest music, the expressive lines, colourful accompaniment and dramatic choral writing make this a great favourite in the choral repertoire. The first chorus entry has been described as 'magical', and the closing eight-part Amen is one of the most remarkable and poignant pieces of choral writing of its period.