Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Choral singing endures as enjoyable tradition

Choral Masterpieces. Photo credit: Pieter du Plessis
Choral Masterpieces
Sunday 27 October 2013
Dunedin Town Hall

Choirs and choral singing are indeed, as the excellent programme notes inform us, a proud part of colonial history perpetuated with huge dedication by such directors as David Burchell.

Within some thirty years of works such as Mendelssohn's Elijah composition (1846) scores had been imported to be performed on stages from Invercargill to Whangarei. The tradition which endures is of predominantly 19th-century and earlier works despite the large number of 20th-century works written for mass choirs. Although the house was by no means full, this by-and-large Germanic music celebrating New Zealand's altered identity as a British colony continues to be enjoyable.

Fittingly, most of the excerpts from large works in this celebratory concert are ones which continue to appear at regular intervals, interspersed with older and newer works which have come to lay claim to extending that tradition. Sadly, the malfunctioning Norma the Organ, played by Simon Mace, deadened the choir's impact in its opening work, Bach's "Jauchzet, Frohlocket" from the Christmas Oratorio (1734).

Similarly, excerpts from Haydn's The Creation (1798) were underwhelming while tenor Peter Wigglesworth and bass Martin Snell carried the work. Pieces from Mozart's Requiem Mass (1791) offered the Choir an opportunity to show its strength in melodic interpretation. Faure's "Libera me" from his Requiem Mass (1893) and two excerpts from Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius (1900) with Snell and mezzo-soprano Helen Medlyn, respectively, were highly enjoyable. Medlyn showed her greater strengths in Bizet's Carmen (1875). Snell's rendition of excerpts from Wagner's Tannhauser was also very pleasing.

Two works made a timid representation of the 20th-century choral tradition. Anthony Ritchie's Southern Marches has deservedly a regular feature of the choir's repertoire. Christopher Marshall's For What Can Be More Beautiful? commissioned by the choir shows that local orchestral music-making might nurture new support.

Everyone involved in this wonderful celebration and huge undertaking are highly commended.

Review by Marian Poole, ODT Tuesday 29 October 2013

Comments from members of the audience:

"What a wonderful weekend we had! The reception and dinner were lovely, and the Choral Masterpieces concert was absolutely fantastic! Everyone did a brilliant job all round - well done :)"

"What a SUPERB concert on Sunday!
I so often wish that it was acceptable for audience members to holler and whoop during a classical music performance as one can at a rock concert….had this been allowed I'd have made a lot of noise on Sunday, especially during the Tannhauser excerpt!
Awesome 3 hours!"

"On behalf of the New Zealand Choral Federation, please accept my warmest congratulations on the choir’s 150th anniversary. City Choir Dunedin has been at the heart of musical life in the city since the early days of settlement and is a significant part of our country’s cultural heritage. The Governance Board of NZCF was very pleased to hear of your highly successful celebratory concert last weekend and wishes you all the best for the remainder of this anniversary year."
- Christine Argyle, Chair, New Zealand Choral Federation

"Three hours of gorgeous music and I don't know how you all did it."

"It must have been extremely difficult to move between so many different genres, languages, time periods, etc., but the musicians and conductor did this incredibly well. The audience was completely engaged from start to finish. Particularly enjoyed the Anthony Ritchie but loved it all."

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