Sunday, December 21, 2014

Choir's baroque Christmas evokes joyful sound

[Photo credit Ian Thomson]

Gloria! A Baroque Christmas

Friday 19 December, Knox Church
Sopranos Cathy Sim and Lois Johnston, Mezzo-soprano Claire Barton, Tenor Benjamin Madden and Bass Tanara Stedman
City Choir Dunedin, Southern Sinfonia
Conducted by David Burchell

A gloriously full and joyful noise greeted a capacity audience at Knox Church on Friday for the City Choir Dunedin’s celebration “Gloria! A Baroque Christmas” directed by David Burchell and guest Assistant Conductor Mark Anderson. Guest soloists included Mezzo-soprano Claire Barton, recently returned from her studies in London, Sopranos Cathy Sim and Lois Johnston, Tenor Benjamin Madden and Bass Tanara Stedman. Barton’s voice has gained a mature depth and professional confidence in both Alto and Mezzo-soprano ranges. Her vocal agility, technical strengths and power were most successfully explored in the aria from Telemann’s demanding Erquickendes Wunder der ewigen Gnade. Sim’s clarity and Johnston’s rich depths worked particularly well in Vivaldi’s Gloria. Madden and Stedman shone in their recitatives from Bach’s Ich freue mich in dir.

Cathy, Tanara, Lois, Benjamin, Claire [Photo credit Ian Thomson]
While the Choir had its weak moments, the direction, venue and size of audience did much to create some almost inspired passages, notably from the choro piccolo in Clerambault's Hodie Christus natus est and from the full Choir in Vivaldi’s Gloria, under Anderson’s economical direction through the tight part work in Praetorius’ In dulci jubilo, and Burchell’s effusive direction of “For unto us a child is born” from Handel’s Messiah.

The evening opened with two almost turgid German works by Buxtehude and Schein, but the mood was lifted by Charpentier’s lilting In Nativitatem Domini Nostri Jesu Christi. The evening’s highlight, Vivaldi’s uplifting Gloria was kept to the final item. Encouraged by the well-deserved hearty applause Burchell gave an encore of three English composers’ versions of “While Shepherds watched their flocks” and an opportunity to present a New Zealand composer was lost.

Review by Marian Poole for the ODT, 20 December 2014.

The reviewer apologises: “My personal and professional apologies for not mentioning the superlative performance of the Southern Sinfonia in my review of "Gloria!".  Mea Culpa.”

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