Monday, November 30, 2020

Seasonal celebration from City Choir

City Choir Dunedin sings Rejoice! Photo: Peter McIntosh (ODT).

Rejoice! Music for Christmas 
Saturday 28 November 2020, Dunedin Town Hall 

A large audience and nearly 100 City Choir Dunedin singers accompanied by Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Burchell, filled Dunedin Town Hall on Saturday evening for a celebration of Christmas classical repertoire entitled Rejoice!

The programme had more variety than their regular biannual seasonal performances of Handel’s Messiah and opened with a lesser known Messe de Minuit pour Noel cc.1694 by Charpentier. 

Joyful, dance-like and more musically secular than masses of the time, this was a challenging work for all, and despite strongly accented orchestral backing, the choir’s big choral entries generally lacked definition and accented articulation, especially at first entries such as in the Gloria

The tempo and intonation were good, and the final Amen of the Credo section was an exciting highlight. 

Soloists Lois Johnston and Caroline Burchell (sopranos), Claire Barton (alto), Andrew Grenon (tenor) and James Harrison (bass) delivered some well balanced segments, though at times the Baroque-sized orchestra tended to dominate. 

Popular A Ceremony of Carols (1942), written by Benjamin Britten for treble voices and harps, comprises 11 short 15th and 16th century texts, in contrasting settings of bright, happy Christmas music. Excellent pace and dynamic palette captured the bell-like spirit of Wolcum Yole! and Deo Gracias, and effective strong unison highlighted Hodie Christus est

Harpist Helen Webby (Christchurch) excelled in providing clear emotional accompaniment throughout for the 60 choir ladies and soprano soloists Johnson and Burchell. 

Burchell conducted J.S. Bach’s Magnificat BWV 243.1 (1723) from the harpsichord, setting good pace, with three trumpeters and some excellent woodwind passages highlighting throughout. 

A very dramatic performance overall, but again with such a big choir, the massive melismatic passages such as in Freut euch und jubiliert and Gloria Patri often lacked accent and cohesion. 

Nevertheless, this was an exciting evening of exhilarating music for patrons and performers alike, a privileged event for Dunedin in this troubled Covid year.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Bouman for the Otago Daily Times, 30 November 2020.

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