Monday, October 20, 2008

A Renaissance Choral Extravaganza - Review

I attended a combined choral concert on Saturday night.

Southern Consort and St Paul's Cathedral Choir joined forced to put on a Renaissance Choral Extravaganza. Yay! The choirs also invited friends along to make up numbers, some of whom were from City of Dunedin Choir.

It was great fun, and an excellent concert. Some of my favourite composers were featured (Palestrina, Gabrieli), and some of the pieces were quite well-known to me - in particular Pitoni's Cantate Domino, which one of my old choirs used to sing as a "Landspeed Record" at the pub (our record stands at about 25 seconds start to finish).

The highlight of the evening was, of course, Tallis' Spem in Alium. This forty part motet was composed about 500 years ago as a beer bet - sort of like the Book of Job, except the victims are choristers, and the heckler is Tallis instead of the guy with the pointy tail.

The piece is actually performed pretty regularly despite the fact that it is a bugger to stage, organise and conduct, let alone actually sing. I've sung it in a choir of about 80, and that was pretty hard with two people per part (more or less), but Saturday's performance had just under 50 singers listed in the programme, which means that most of the choristers were holding their own part with no backup. That's tough, unless you're used to doing it, and even then it's tough with something like Spem.

I'll start by saying they did really well, and the piece sounded as it was supposed to. You may think I'm being a harsh critic, but for the piece to sound correct is actually no small achievement.

Spem was tuneful, the main entries appeared on cue, and poor David was so busy waving his arms about I think he deserves a week off to recover! I was reminded of Henry The Octopus more than once :-) If you think singing your own part by yourself is hard, try following a score with 40 voice parts, and cueing 8 choirs to come in on time! Augh! David, I bow in your tentacly presence.

The beauty of Spem, which is completely lost on recordings of course, is the fact that the sound swells and falls, and moves around the room. Forget your stereophonic headphones, baby, this is the real deal. It's a total mindblow, and great fun as you watch the expressions on the choristers, as they are either completely drawn in concentration, uplifted in choral orgasm, or frozen in WTF-where-on-earth-am-I-I-hope-Mum-doesn't-notice-I'm-completely-lost panic.

All in all, the choristers performed admirably. Highlights of the concert - apart from Spem - were the Gabrieli Gloria (all choristers), the Pitoni Cantate Domino (Southern Consort - although I think they should have tried for a Landspeed Record!), When David Heard (St Paul's Choir) and the Monteverdi Laudate Dominum (all choristers). In between choral works, the organ was used to great effect, and all of it was good - I can't think of a standout.

Combining Choirs

I come from the Intervarsity Choral Tradition, so I'm a bit biased, but I do think that combining choirs is a wonderful thing to do, and should be done more. In the case of this concert, it enabled two smaller choirs to tackle some rather challenging works, and in most cases it can cut costs and increase audience numbers - benefits at both ends when making ends meet is increasingly difficult for choirs to achieve.

I really enjoyed being in the audience for a change. Usually I'm up on stage, and it was nice to be able to sit, relax, and appreciate other people's work!

Everyone involved did themselves proud, and the concert was a great success. I pity anyone who missed it - I don't know when Spem will be performed next in Dunedin, but it may be a while.

Credit where Credit is Due

Finally, I'm going to give a big thankyou to a person whose hard work is seldom noticed or appreciated, but who I know is reading this review - a close friend and the godfather of my kids, Philip Legge. Philip put the part scores for Spem In Alium together on the Choral Public Domain Library. It was sheer coincidence that Michael (my husband) noticed the Spem part scores the choir were using were Philip's own.

Philip puts in a massive amount of hours of work on the CPDL as a volunteer, and it is because of the labours of people like him, who work because of their sheer love of music, that choristers and audience alike can enjoy performances such as the one we appreciated on Saturday night.

Philip is a great and incredibly talented bloke. Thanks Philip - we loves yous!

3 comments:

Michael said...

Actually I thought David was most spider-like than octopus-like, but he certainly did an amazing job of cueing everyone!

daharja said...

Ah - but I don't know of any spiders that could manage an underwater big band. Underwater musical fish bands would be a doddle after Spem, I reckon.

Although Charlotte (aka Debbie Reynolds) can sing and dance a bit ;-)

Leta said...

Thanks for the review Leanne, good job! Now I am doubly sorry that I could not be there!