Saturday, August 1, 2020

Messages of peace, hope and comfort

David Burchell conducts the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra and City Choir Dunedin in the Songs for Humanity concert at Knox Church on Saturday night. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Songs for Humanity
City Choir Dunedin
Knox Church, 1 August 2020 

City Choir Dunedin with Dunedin Symphony Orchestra (conducted by David Burchell) gave an early evening concert last Saturday entitled Songs for Humanity.

Patrons filled Knox Church to capacity for the programme of repertoire, highlighted with very relevant messages of hope, comfort and peace, missives that were surprisingly chosen before the onset of Covid-19. 

The main work, Requiem, by Gabriel Faure, was dedicated to the thousands of people who have died, and those yet to perish from the coronavirus pandemic. 

The concert began with Song of the Universal (2012), by Ola Gjeilo, for women’s voices, strings and piano (Sandra Crawshaw) which opened with an effective string and vocal humming soundscape. Textural variety and more animated lyrical passages were generally satisfactorily achieved. 

New Zealander composer Christopher Marshall, currently working in Florida, had reset the orchestral score of Pastorale (1997) to suit Dunedin’s strings, organ, vibraphone and glockenspiel. The work is a setting of Psalm 23 for men’s voices and soprano soloist (Caroline Burchell). Not an easy work to conquer and I felt the choir lacked definition, despite impressive shading and dynamics. 

Dona nobis pacem - Grant Us Peace (1996), by Latvian composer Peterisk Vasks, achieved strong choral tone with attention to dynamic highlighting, traversing textured chant-like three-word melodic statements with climactically enriched tension, culminating with a final state of serenity and hope. 

Faure’s Requiem described as a lullaby of death and happy deliverance, was progressing well until the organ ‘‘ciphered’’ and an unwanted, unrelenting, continuing bass pipe intervened. After a few minutes for adjustments and presumably future avoidance of the offending note, the performance resumed with the famous Pie Jesu (soprano Caroline Burchell). 

Baritone soloist Scott Bezett demonstrated baritone strength with confident, intelligent delivery, and the chamber-sized orchestra with Johnny Mottershead (organ) and Helen Webby (harp) was an ideal balance for this work, which ended with an emotive elongated final chord, before an outburst of applause and cries of ‘‘Bravo’’ from the elated audience.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Bouman for the Otago Daily Times, Monday 3 August 2020.

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