Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts

Monday, July 1, 2024

Stellar concert honours Matariki

Visions of Heaven

Friday 28 June 2024, St Paul's Cathedral

As part of the Dunedin Organ Festival and Puaka Matariki Festival, City Choir Dunedin, three soloists and guest organists presented Visions of Heaven to an appreciative audience in St Paul’s Cathedral on Friday.

"It is fabulous to have a full cathedral . . .to celebrate Matariki and the organ festival," conductor David Burchell said. 

The early evening concert began with the choir singing Stars by modern Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds, the unusual accompaniment being tuned wineglasses.

Edward C. Bairstow’s Blessed City, Heavenly Salem followed, Christchurch organist Jeremy Woodside interpreting well to provide an excellent balance between organ, choir and soloists before Wellington organ student Max Toth took the console to present the charming and delicate In Paradisum by Theodore Dubois.

In a change of pace, soloists Cathy Sim (soprano), Alex McAdam (tenor) and John McAdam (bass) returned with the choir for Josef Haydn’s familiar The Heavens are Telling.

Woodside’s rendition of Apollo was an audience favourite, the organist presenting with aplomb this very demanding and extremely dramatic work by James Whitbourn, who died earlier this year.

Apollo is a remarkable composition, showing just what an organ can do, the instrument covering every aspect of the 1968 moon mission, from ear-blasting lift-off to the Genesis creation reading by the three astronauts on board.

In an attractive contrast, CCD presented a popular early 20th century choral work, Edgar Bainton’s And I Saw a New Heaven, then Sea-am Thompson, of Christchurch, played the stately and rather sombre Le Banquet Celeste by Olivier Messiaen before Burchell handed the baton to Mark Anderson.

Anderson, well-known as timpanist with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, conducted the choir while Burchell — who had arranged the orchestral work for the organ — played David Hamilton’s beautiful The Stars Above the Sea. Finally, marking the end of the concert, the choir presented unaccompanied Chris Artley’s Matariki, which as Burchell said, "rightly has become very popular since it was composed in 2020".

Burchell excels at assembling well-balanced programmes to highlight performers’ talents and Visions of Heaven was no exception. A stellar concert.

Review by Gillian Vine, The Star, 4 July 2024

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Rousing performance of Bach classic

Bach's St John Passion

City Choir Dunedin, Dunedin Town Hall
Sunday 24 March 2024

Presented on Palm Sunday, J.S. Bach’s St John Passion was a memorable performance in German by a fired-up City Choir Dunedin under the baton of musical director David Burchell, who also played the harpsichord. Despite Covid reducing the ranks, more than 60 choir members joined soloists Iain Tetley, Patrick Shanahan, James Harrison, Caroline Burchell, Maaike Christie-Beekman and Lila Crichton on stage at the Dunedin Town Hall. Guest organist was John van Buskirk.

First performed on Good Friday in 1724, the Passion is based on two chapters of the Gospel of John, the final days and death of Christ.

Tenor Tetley took the pivotal role of the Evangelist, his clear diction vital in tracing events from the Garden of Gethsemane through Christ’s crucifixion to his burial.

Enhanced by the choral sections, the narration is interspersed with individual musical dialogue, principally from two basses Christ (Shanahan) and Pilate (Harrison). With Tetley, the three demonstrated superb balance and control in the questioning of Jesus by Pilate.

Alto Christie-Beekman as the maid gave a powerful rendition of Von den Stricken ("To release me from the bondage of my sinning") and then soprano Burchell enchanted the audience with her clarity and command in the moving aria I’ll Walk in Your Footsteps, accompanied by Dunedin Symphony Orchestra flautists.

Crichton gained in confidence as the story developed, his rich tenor a joy to the audience.

Christie-Beekman’s aria It is Finished, sung from memory, was a highlight — lead cellist David Murray playing the accompaniment to perfection.

The story is a long one, yet neither choir nor soloists flagged, tackling soaring arias and complex choral fugues with aplomb.

St John Passion ends with the choir’s uplifting Rest Well Holy Bones of the Saviour. City of Dunedin choir gave it everything they had, a fitting end to one of its best-ever performances.

It did Bach proud, unlike the two people in the audience whose cellphones rang during the concert.

Review by Gillian Vine, The Star, 28 March 2024

Monday, March 25, 2024

Passion still enthralling after 300 years

Bach's St John Passion

City Choir Dunedin, Dunedin Town Hall
Sunday 24 March 2024

Bach wrote the St John Passion in 1724, and for 300 years audiences have been enthralled by the enormity and poignancy of this work. Yesterday afternoon, an average-sized Dunedin audience had the thrill of hearing this work performed by City Choir Dunedin and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra conducted confidently by David Burchell.

From the opening chorus it was obvious that the choir was in fine form. Entries were secure, tone was well-supported and voice parts were well-balanced. This continued throughout; the choir alternating between reflective chorales, choruses, and crowd interjections which produced some electrifying moments. However, the German diction needed greater clarity.

The Evangelist, Iain Tetley, bears the responsibility of delivering the story. Tetley did this admirably varying tone colour and tempo to the mood.

In the role of Christ, Patrick Shanahan has the appropriate vocal timbre and sang with good resonance. However, his lack of eye contact and dramatic body language tended to diminish the interpretation of this role.

The four soloists were well matched.

Caroline Burchell’s clear soprano voice filled the auditorium well and she sang with a good understanding of baroque style.

Maaike Christie-Beekman’s first aria was somewhat overwhelmed by the obbligato instruments, but her second aria Es ist Vollbracht was passionately sung from memory. This was a real highlight.

Lila Crichton has a warm timbre to his voice matching the arias well.

Bass, James Harrison, who sang the role of Pilate, as well as the bass arias, was dramatic, convincing and powerful.

The support of the orchestra was unwavering, with the obbligato outstanding. David Murray (cello) and John van Buskirk (organ) accompanied the recitatives fluently, with Burchell conducting arias from the harpsichord.

All in all, a moving performance.

Review by Judy Bellingham, Otago Daily Times 25 March 2024

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Choir’s best-ever ‘Messiah’ a treat

Messiah, 25 November 2023. Photo: Ian Thomson
Handel’s Messiah 
City Choir Dunedin, Dunedin Town Hall 
Saturday, November 25 

Those who said, ‘‘I’ve heard it before’’ and stayed away missed a musical treat when, in a triumphant return, Handel’s Messiah was presented in the Dunedin Town Hall on Saturday evening. 

It was a night to savour. 

With accompaniment by the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, Dunedin City Choir excelled in its best-ever performance of the work. Conducted by choir director David Burchell, who also played the harpsichord, there was no sign that he — like many choir members — had just recovered from Covid. 

Originally performed in the lead-up to Easter, Messiah is now a pre-Christmas fixture on musical calendars. Charles Jennens’ English libretto made accessible the story of Christ’s birth, crucifixion and resurrection, especially given the clear diction of all four soloists. Elizabeth Mandeno (soprano), Maaike Christie-Beekman (alto), Lachlan Craig (tenor) and Wade Kernot (bass) delighted the audience. 

Craig’s confident opening recitative set the scene, then — supported by the 70-strong choir — the story continued with Christie-Beekman’s strong depiction of the prophecy of the virgin birth and Kernot’s beautifully conveyed emotion in the Isaiah passage (‘‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light’’). 

The soprano introduced the New Testament with the angels appearing to the shepherds and Mandeno’s clear rendition was a pleasure to hear. 

The duets between alto and tenor, and alto and soprano were well done, although at times the voices were a little overwhelmed by the DSO. 

Effectively a trumpet/bass duet, The Trumpet Shall Sound was truly impressive, Kernot’s superb breath control matched by that of trumpeter Ralph Miller. 

Messiah demands a lot of a choir. Dunedin City Choir impressed throughout but was at its very best in We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray and the final chorus, Worthy is the Lamb. The choir’s discipline and the seamless transitions between chorus and soloists were a tribute to the many hours of rehearsal under Burchell’s direction, recognised by the well-deserved standing ovation given at Messiah’s conclusion.

Saturday’s Messiah was the perfect lead-in to Advent. 

Review by Gillian Vine, The Star 30 November 2023

Monday, November 27, 2023

A rite that endures for good reason

Photo: Ian Thomson 25 November 2023

Messiah, City Choir Dunedin and Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, Dunedin TownHall, Saturday, November 25, 2023. 

The Southland Times review of the premier of the entire Messiah by the Invercargill Philharmonic Society in 1878 noted the "indefatigable" conductor (Hautrie West) and that the "ordeal" of the rehearsals had met a "very successful performance", before an enthusiastic but sparse audience. 

Then as now, the effort required to bring such a vast and long work to fruition still requires its leader to be indefatigable, the choir to be committed to many rehearsals, and the instrumentalists to be ever present. City Choir Dunedin, Dunedin Symphony Orchestra and soloists Elizabeth Mandeno (soprano), Maaike Christie-Beekman (mezzo-soprano), Lachlan Craig (tenor) and Wade Kernot (bass) under David Burchell produced a highly successful performance. 

The less than capacity audience included those who knew to stand up for, and sing along to the Hallelujah Chorus. It also included those new to this rite who grew fidgety over the work’s duration. They rewarded the performers with a prolonged standing ovation. 

As in 1878 the Messiah presents its soloists with something of a rite of passage. The demands of the work are heavy. If the voice is not sufficiently agile or powerful the result can be turgid; every repetition requires renewal; performance stamina should endure long intervals of inactivity. Each had their highlights — Mandeno’s clarity in There Were Shepherds and Rejoice Greatly, Beekman’s dramatic portrayal of He was Despised and Rejected, Craig’s pleading in Behold and See if There be Any Sorrow and Kernot’s triumphant The Trumpet Shall Sound. Each is also culpable of being tongue-tied in the more convoluted melodic lines. The choir’s devotion to task overcame similar shortfalls, but shone in those choruses sung from memory.

Handel’s stalwart Messiah is a rite that endures via its devotees’ devotions.

Review by Marian Poole, Otago Daily Times 27 November 2023.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Choir rises to the occasion for concert

Alleluia! Music for Eastertide
Dunedin City Choir Saturday, 22 April 2023, Knox Church

In "Alleluia! Music for Eastertide", City Choir Dunedin rose to the occasion on Saturday evening, presenting a programme of music from the 16th to the 21st century.

Staged in a well-filled Knox Church, the concert, under the baton of David Burchell, opened with a nicely balanced, unaccompanied rendition of Samuel Scheidt’s Easter carol Surrexit Christus Hodie.

An early cantata, J.S. Bach’s Christ lag in Todes Banden, followed.

The gloomy introduction from Dunedin Symphony Orchestra players led into a more joyous mood from the choir, then soprano Caroline Burchell and mezzo Erin Connelly-Whyte sang the duet, each voice perfectly complementing the other.

Tenor Brendon Shanks and bass Edward Smith were soloists, the latter impressing with a powerful voice, while in Shanks’ duet with Burchell, the tenor seemed more confident than in his solo.

One of the evening’s greatest challenges for the choir was Josef Rheinberger’s Osterhymne.

The 19th-century German composer wrote this for two choirs, so the City Choir was divided in half, singing unaccompanied in Latin. The result was a pleasure to listen to, as the two groups portrayed the battle between life and death.

Conductor Burchell’s own new work, O Sons and Daughters, opened the second half and was even more challenging for the choir.

Unaccompanied, the hymn – based on a medieval text – had complex interwoven elements and the many hours of rehearsal paid off in delivering the irregular metres with an aplomb a professional choir would have envied.

From its rich introduction, Georg Philipp Telemann’s Zwei Junger gehn nach Emmaus delighted the audience.

In his solo, Shanks was at his best, clearly enunciating the story of Christ’s two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Then Smith and Connelly-Whyte provided the sermon central to the work, leading into the choir’s joyful conclusion.

For a crowd pleaser, the final work had it all. Mozart was only 16 when he wrote Regina Coeli in B flat, yet it showed great maturity.

The first movement, with its extended orchestral introduction, gave the choir another opportunity to shine, while the second and third movements were dominated by the splendid voice of Burchell.

Completely in control and most ably supported by the choir and Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, she delighted throughout.

"Alleluia! Music for Eastertide" was a triumph for City Choir Dunedin, musical director Burchell, the four soloists, Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, and organist Micah Xiang.

Reviewed by GILLIAN VINE for The Star, 27 April 2023

Monday, April 24, 2023

Highlights shine


Alleluia! Music for Eastertide

Saturday 22 April 2023, Knox Church

A full house turned out for the Easter celebration staged by City Choir Dunedin with members of the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra and guest soloists led by David Burchell at Knox Church on Saturday night.

Despite their numbers being depleted somewhat by a fourth wave of Covid-19, the choir put in a sturdy performance of a technically very challenging programme. The twists, turns and vocal agility demanded by baroque music was designed to be challenging even for professional voices.

Part of the excitement of antiphonal music is the inherent risk of becoming a confused and turgid noise. This risk was sadly realised on several occasions. However, there were enough highlights to win the performers and the performance enthusiastic applause.

Soloist soprano Caroline Burchell has a growing creditable repertoire and shows great agility particularly in the solo parts of Mozart’s Regina Coeli. While minced words were all too frequently the cost of this agility, Burchell’s voice and her ease of presentation should take her far.

Mezzo-soprano Erin Connelly-Whyte has a beautiful, warm voice. Her duet with Burchell in Bach’s Christ lag in Todes Banden showed her power in harmonising. Connelly-Whyte’s solo in Telemann’s Zwei Junger highlighted her lyric strength.

Tenor Brendan Shanks showed some uncertainty but a capacity for a powerful presentation particularly in his aria from Bach’s Christ lag.

Bass Edward Smith also showed the weaknesses of a new performer facing a difficult work but overall put up a powerful performance.

David Burchell’s composition O Sons and Daughters proved to be one of those moments in which the choir was severely stretched. The work displays some allegiance to Finzi’s rhythmic contrivances and is, overall, a very accessible work. Vocal articulation and momentum suffered but both were reprieved by a strong finish.

Review by Marian Poole, Otago Daily Times, 24 April 2023

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Contrasting but complementary works beautifully performed

Mozart Requiem
Saturday 26 November 2022, Knox Church

The vaulted roof and lovely acoustics of Knox Church were the perfect setting for City Choir Dunedin's performance of two contrasting, but complementary choral works - Mozart's Requiem and Forrest's the breath of life.

Conducted by David Burchell, the choir was joined by an excellent group of soloists in Caroline Burchell (soprano), Claire Barton (mezzo-soprano), Scott Bezett (tenor), and Edward Smith (bass), with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, and Valerie Xiang (organ) and Sandra Crawshaw (piano) in sterling support.

The concert began with the New Zealand première of Forrest's 2019 atmospheric work the breath of life, portraying the beauty, yet brevity, of human life. From the opening moments of sibilant breathing from the choir, the piece maintains a contemplative tone throughout, melding voices, orchestra, piano, and digital sounds together in a satisfying whole.

The full forces of choir, orchestra and soloists then marshalled under Burchell's direction in a vigorous, nicely balanced performance of Mozart's Requiem.

In a work filled with moments of drama and poignancy, the choir highlights for this reviewer were the opening Requiem, Kyrie, Dies Irae, the beautiful Lacrimosa, and the Agnus Dei. Gentle moments were beautifully rendered, and some fiendishly quick fugue passages were tackled with aplomb.

The soloists were superb in solo passages and worked well together to blend their voices in the Tuba mirum, Recordare, and Benedictus movements, with Caroline Burchell's clear soprano soaring beautifully above.

The DSO players were excellent in support, adding form and colour to a wonderful musical experience. Bravo!

Review by Brenda Harwood, The Star, 1 December 2022.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Strong performance of popular requiem

Mozart Requiem
Saturday 26 November 2022, Knox Church

Mozart's Requiem is popular repertoire for large choirs, writes Elizabeth Bouman.

Last Saturday evening this famous requiem was sung in Knox Church by City Choir Dunedin accompanied by members of the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, Sandra Crawshaw (piano), Valerie Xiang (organ) and soloists Caroline Burchell (soprano), Claire Barton (alto), Scott Bezett (tenor) and Edward Smith (bass).

Requiem is a funeral mass, written by Mozart in the weeks before his own death. He left it unfinished, and historians like to believe he knew he was nearing the end of his own life, despite it being a commissioned work. Scored for a baroque-sized orchestra, choir and four soloists, it follows the traditional eight section sequence, with Latin text of mourning and remembrance.

Conductor David Burchell choose a good forward-moving tempo, achieving a strong performance overall.

Lacrimosa and Sanctus were highlights.

Also on the programme was a contemporary choral (2019) work, the breath of life, by American Dan Forrest (1978-).

Audience members with a programme and time to read the descriptive notes beforehand listened with an extra dimension. But without knowledge of text or theme the listener could find the work rather repetitive, swamped with thick harmonies and inexplicable orchestral statements and textures.

Perhaps a narrator between movements could have charted events, as the evocative soundscape outlined life from the miracle of birth to the bereavement of death.

Dramatic script from the Bible, classic and modern poetry set sensitive text, but not always clearly enunciated by the 70-strong choir.

The entire work was sensual and imaginative with changing colours and moods throughout, from the breathy opening, emotive cello lyricism, choral harmony climaxing the miracle of birth, life experiences, the fading of life and mourning of death.

This was the first New Zealand performance of the breath of life, and I felt Dunedin’s musicians gave a commendable performance.

Review by Elizabeth Bouman, Otago Daily Times, 28 November 2022.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Excellent performance from choir and musicians

City Choir Dunedin, Petite Messe Solennelle, Knox Church, Sunday, August 28 

Knox Church was yesterday’s venue for City Choir Dunedin’s performance of Petite Messe Solennelle, by Gioachino Rossini. 

The 50-member choir was in excellent form in the well-filled church. 

Luckily there was a plan B for these uncertain times, as both an advertised soloist and pianist were unavailable. David Burchell conducted and the soloists were soprano Rebecca Ryan, mezzo Sarah Court (replacing Claire Barton), tenor Jared Holt and bass Federico Freschi. 

In his earlier years, Rossini composed about 40 operas, but after 30 years and at the age of 71, he "came out of retirement" in 1863 to write a Mass for the inauguration of a private chapel, originally a salon-styled work, very operatic in style, with piano and harmonium accompaniment. (Rossini did orchestrate the work at a later date.) 

Pianists Tom McGrath (replacing Sandra Crawshaw) and John van Buskirk provided excellent accompaniment throughout, with Ron Newton on a harmonium adding a legato quality to the more percussive character of pianoforte scoring. I felt the harmonium could have been much stronger in volume, many times when underpinning the two pianos. 

After a couple of rather ominous heavy chords, a spirited forward-moving introduction launched the Kyrie and the choir immediately impressed with a fine balance of harmony and nuance. The entire work is frequently punctuated with dramatic contrapuntal passages, crammed with unexpected rhythmic surprises and modulations. 

The sacred text declares it a Mass, and there was no mistaking the lengthy florid A-men’s but the piano Preludio religioso was a beautiful passage in secular style which could well be mistaken for a Beethoven work, and the various solos were indeed intensely operatic in delivery. 

Ryan’s solos were superb, lyrical and immaculate in their interpretation. 

Freschi was rich and powerfully operatic, Holt matched with compelling tenor strength and Court maintained strong resonance in her lowest passages, something that is sometimes missing with mezzo lines. 

Well done to all in presenting Rossini’s Petite Messe with such intense drama and excellent musicianship.

Review by Elizabeth Bouman, ODT, 29 August 2022

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Stellar soloists make beloved classic sing

Messiah 2021. Photo by Ian Thomson.

Handel's Messiah

Tuesday 7 December 2021, Dunedin Town Hall

City Choir Dunedin, four fine soloists and Dunedin Symphony Orchestra turned in stellar performances at the choir's two-yearly presentation of Handel's Messiah on Tuesday evening.

Review by Gillian Vine, The Star, 9 December 2021.

Messiah: Soloists cap splendid showing

Messiah 2021. Photo by Ian Thomson.

Handel's Messiah

Tuesday 7 December 2021, Dunedin Town Hall

Handel could never have imagined Messiah, his oratorio written in 1741, would live on through generations, becoming such a popular work throughout the world, especially on the Christian calendar, where it is customary to perform it before Christmas. 

City Choir Dunedin, accompanied by Dunedin Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Burchell , delivered this massive dramatic musical work to a very appreciative audience on Tuesday evening in the Dunedin Town Hall. 

The soloists were Lois Johnston (soprano), Claire Barton (alto), Oliver Sewell (tenor), and Paul Whelan (bass). 

I have attended and reviewed many performances of Messiah and along with others to whom I spoke, felt this performance was one of the best. Maybe after a lean year for live musical events it was the exhilaration of just being in the town hall as the drama and passion of text unfolded. But the musicians were definitely all in top form, and Sewell’s opening Comfort Ye and aria certainly set a very high benchmark for others to follow, as glorious tenor timbre and robust cadential ornamentation filled the auditorium. 

The choir of 90 were in great form, with full marks for strength, blend and top soprano intonation. A highlight was the ardour and detail accorded the big chorus numbers, such as And the Glory, Lift Up Your Head, and of course the famous Hallelujah with its soaring triumphant climaxes. Burchell drew excellent dynamic contrast for sections of Since by Man Came Death

The baroque orchestra responded to paces set, fusing tight string blends with stylistic embellishment and exciting crescendi. Trumpet highlights were strong and true. 

Soloists advanced the plot with precision and sincerity. Whelan’s big resonating bass achieved clarity of text, especially in The Trumpet Shall Sound with an impressive decorated final cadence. Barton filled He Was Despised with appropriate sentiment, and Johnston (who at 24 hours’ notice replaced an indisposed soprano) was never tentative, although I felt she was a little lightweight, but her famous aria I Know That My Redeemer Liveth was superb. 

The final Amens were followed by long applause and standing ovation. A magnificent performance.

Review by Elizabeth Bouman, Otago Daily Times, 9 December 2021

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

An interesting and well-designed affair

Applaud! Women in Music 

Saturday 29 May 7:30 pm, Knox Church

City Choir Dunedin’s latest concert, “Applaud! Women in Music” was an interesting and well- designed affair. The considerable use of soloists Olivia Pike (soprano), Tessa Romano (mezzo- soprano), and Benjamin Madden (tenor) was a smart choice and allowed the choir to focus on refining a smaller percentage of the overall programme.

Martines’ Laudate Pueri Dominum, conducted by Mark Anderson, featured all three soloists and after a rousing intro from David Burchell (organ), the choir we’re away and swiftly followed by Pike and Romano’s first accomplished flourishes of the evening. The trio sang well as an ensemble during Nell’ odo rifero chiaro oriente and their physical and harmonic interactions seemed a natural extension of the text. This continued into Pike and Romano’s Certe alme misere and was my highlight of the work, with other special mentions to Madden’s vocal acrobatics in Qual alto principe and the choir’s negotiation of the tricky fugue, Di tutti popoli.

The duo of Pike and Romano impressed again with Strozzi’s Mi ferte, oh Begli occhi, also accompanied by Burchell on organ. I have a soft spot for Strozzi and found this rendition to be suitably vocally and physically dramatic as to reflect the typically over-the-top, “I’ll die if you don’t love me” prose of the era. And then we reached the Britten. Notwithstanding Burchell’s justification, I am still not completely convinced of the inclusion of his Hymn to St. Cecilia in a programme so focussed on female composition. However, I understand the underpinning theme of Cecilia being the patron saint of music. I was pleasantly surprised by how successfully the choir negotiated Britten’s harmonic writing – theoretically, it should have been more difficult but they were much more settled than in the Martines. Unfortunately, much of the English text was lost, with perhaps this setting being more suitable for a smaller ensemble. Solos from within the choir were delivered with confidence, notably from Sophie Gangl. Madden again stepped up to the plate and was appropriately fanfare-like, providing the classic tenor/trumpet comparison in the best possible way.

This was followed by a bracket of African-American composers Florence Price and Betty Jackson King – Romano’s time to shine and shine she did. I particularly enjoyed Price’s An April Day but all three songs were delivered with charisma. Word-painting is a talent and one which Romano possesses in abundance. To close the first half, Pike was welcomed back to join the sopranos and altos of the choir for Chaminade’s Ronde du Crépuscule, with Sandra Crawshaw accompanying. Pike soared above the chorus as they spun tales of enchanted fairy worlds in murmuring utterances.

After a brief interval, the choir returned with Tamsin Jones’ Von Herzen, a setting of the preface Beethoven used for his Missa Solemnis. Antiphonal phrasing allowed the choir to enjoy the interplay between voice parts. Continuing the Germanic theme, Pike’s bracket consisted of a Lang lied, Den Abschied schnell genommen, which had excellent diction and energy, and Beach’s I send my heart up to thee. This allowed a showcase of legato and phrasing, with lovely bloom into the upper register from Pike.

A selection of seven of fourteen poems from Felicia Edgecombe’s Shaky Places showed a variety of genres for the choir and also provided them with a chance to explore New Zealand experiences in musical settings. The most successful movements were Once in a while, where the choir demonstrated a more delicate touch; Twelve moon lines, which Romano led through strong blues inspiration, allowing the choir to begin to leave their classical comfort zone; and Erebus, a beautiful portrayal of what is obviously highly sensitive subject matter and quite potentially the most moving piece of the evening. Febriani Idrus (flute) and Sophie Hamer (cello) excelled in Erebus and their addition was transformative. To close, a strong performance of Rosephanye Powell’s The Word was God, and did they perhaps save their best-executed piece for last?

It is not every day that one gets to attend an almost entirely female-composed programme – and this was a welcomed change. In some of my previous remarks, I have specifically mentioned diversity in programming and how this needs to be stretched further. If this concert is the result, then I will continue to make noise because this is a very good start. City Choir Dunedin also proved themselves perfectly capable of handling and delivering contemporary and twentieth-century works that, in the past, may have been put in the “not our cup of tea” basket. Overall, a very pleasing concert and I look forward to seeing what boundaries are pushed next!

Review by Courtney Hickmott, The Wave, 1 June 2021.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Women soloists deliver intricate harmonies

Applaud! Women in Music 

Saturday 29 May 7:30 pm, Knox Church

A near-capacity audience in a comfortably warm Knox Church heard a programme devised by conductor and accompanist, David Burchell.

He was assisted in the long overdue recognition of some remarkable talent by the City Dunedin Choir, guest conductor Mark Anderson, and pianist Sandra Crawshaw and guest soloists Olivia Pike, soprano, Tessa Romano, mezzo, and tenor Benjamin Madden, to celebrate female composers and artists.

The notable exception to Burchell’s mission was Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia, set to W.H. Auden’s poem, which asks its heroine to “wear her [marital] tribulations like a rose”, valorising the ‘‘virtue’’ of being long-suffering.

Nonetheless, it is an excellent and challenging piece of a cappella music that delves gently into modal idioms. The choir and its soloists performed it exceptionally well despite a somewhat inconstant flow of confidence.

Romano and Pike gave a powerful performance of Barbara Strozzi’s Mi ferrite, oh Begli occhi. They lent the work’s intricate harmonies an astonishing beauty.

Cecile Chaminade’s Ronde du Crepuscule and Amy Beach’s I send my heart up to thee highlighted Olivia Pike’s strength in high, clear held tones which soared to magnificent effect over the choir in the former and over the piano in the latter.

A selection from Felicia Edgecombe’s Shaky Places, which sets the works of (predominantly) male New Zealand poets, followed. Some worked — others didn’t. Sam Hunt’s bluesy Twelve Moon Lines, Bill Manhire’s atmospheric Erebus and Brian Turner’s awed Once in a While stood out for the way in which the music enhanced the words. Jeffrey Paparoa Holman’s After the Tremor had some beautiful moments while Lauris Edmond’s Tuatara undermined the poem’s allusion to the creature’s stoic profile.

Rosephanye Powell’s uplifting gospel The Word was God was performed with wonderful attention to its infectious rhythmic pulse.

Review by Marion Poole, Otago Daily Times, 31 May 2021.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Outstanding programme to celebrate Christmas

Photo by Ian Thomson

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

Last Saturday evening City Choir Dunedin, supported by the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra presented an outstanding programme to celebrate the Christmas season.

The concert opened with Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit. The mass, which featured soloists Lois Johnston (soprano), Caroline Burchell (soprano), Claire Barton (alto), Andrew Grenon (tenor), and James Harrison (bass), offered an opportunity for the choir to display their skill at performing challenging, less well known repertoire. The work features beautiful and interesting harmonic moments, which the choir handled admirably, although a degree of uncertainty or perhaps lack of commitment (in comparison to that displayed later in the programme) meant that the magic was at times lost, leaving the piece to feel a little long.

In Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols the skills of the upper voices of the choir were showcased, supported by the phenomenal talent of Christchurch-based harpist Helen Webby. Featuring soprano soloists Burchell and Johnston, this performance had some extraordinary moments. Johnston’s performance in That Yongë Child was so hauntingly beautiful, you could have heard a pin drop in the audience, while Burchell’s rendition of Balulalow, supported by the women’s chorus, was truly exquisite. Webby, accompanying the choir and soloists throughout, plays with fantastic skill and musicality, with her Interlude being one of my personal favourite moments of the concert. This challenging work displayed the choir’s skill in handling complex polyphony, although at times the diction left a bit to be desired. On the whole, however, it was a great performance of a Christmas classic.

Bach’s Magnificat brought with it a significant step up in the choir’s energy level. Conducted by David Burchell from the harpsichord, this piece brought the choir, orchestra, and all five soloists back together for the second half of the concert. This monumental work showed the full range of the choir’s strengths, in which they gave great dedication and spirit to the music throughout. All five soloists were absolutely thrilling, with Claire Barton in particular giving a standout performance. A fantastic evening! It sounds like City Choir has a great programme lined up for 2021, so keep an eye out for future concerts!

Review by Ihlara McIndoe for The Wave, 7 December 2020.

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.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Sung and Played from the Heart

The title, the timing and the content of Songs for Humanity (Knox Church, 1 August 2020) by City Choir Dunedin were all spot-on – so much so that one could hardly believe they were chosen (as conductor David Burchell pointed out in his preamble) before the world-wide spread of Covid-19. What could be more appropriate in the midst of so many people’s trials and tribulations than to use music’s power as a balm and salve during this devastating pandemic, and to dedicate the performance of the main work – Fauré’s Requiem – to those “who have died and will yet die” from it?

Three shorter pieces of accessible music by living composers made up the programme’s first half. In Norwegian-born Ola Gjeilo’s Song of the Universal, ably sung by all the women’s voices supported by the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra’s strings (concertmaster: Tessa Petersen) and pianist Sandra Crawshaw, alternating slow and fast sections brought out the ecstatic, aspirational quality of Walt Whitman’s poem. By contrast, in New Zealander Christopher Marshall’s more complex Pastorale – a setting of Psalm 23 for soprano solo and men’s voices with specially arranged accompaniment of strings, organ (David Burchell) and percussion – the prevailing mood was consolatory, albeit punctuated by dramatic outbursts which tested both the choir and the soloist (soprano Caroline Burchell) to the utmost, as well as assistant conductor Mark Anderson on the podium. Then came Latvian Pēteris Vasks’ Dona nobis pacem for four-part choir, strings and organ (Johnny Mottershead) – a highly effective final item, where the mostly slow-moving music’s austere diatonic language provided a series of cumulative build-ups of tension and excitement before the peaceful ending, and where conductor Burchell – now back on the podium – achieved an excellent choral blend throughout.

In his hands, too, the concert’s main work, Fauré’s Requiem, received a most sensitive and stylish interpretation. The crystalline radiance of soprano Caroline Burchell in the Pie Jesu and the darker, more anguished tones of baritone Scott Bezett in the Offertorium and the Libera me were particularly noteworthy, and the choir coped well with the subtleties of the composer’s chromatically-enhanced harmonic language. The orchestra’s lower strings (Fauré wanted no violins except for a violin solo in the Sanctus) combined with organ, horns and harp to give unfailingly appropriate support to the choir’s flowing lines, with well-judged dramatic irruptions by the horns for ‘Hosanna’ in the Sanctus and the ‘Dies Irae’ section of the Libera me, and delicious arpeggios on the organ for the In Paradisum.

Beethoven inscribed on the manuscript of his Missa solemnis these words: “From the heart – may it go back – to the heart.” The capacity audience’s response to all the items in this concert showed how deeply they felt that every musician who sang or played  in this moving and memorable event did so wholeheartedly, thereby making a worthy contribution to the maintenance of true human values in a world that sorely needs them.

Review by Donald Cullington, 2 August 2020

Photo: Ian Thomson

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.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Inspired and uplifting performance

Handel's Messiah
Tuesday 10 December 2019, Dunedin Town Hall

Handel's evergreen oratorio Messiah was given an inspired and uplifting performance in Dunedin Town Hall on Tuesday by City Choir Dunedin, four guest soloists, and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra -- all under David Burchell's unerring baton.

This work, composed in 1741, comprises a mammoth meditation on the Christian message, with dramatic interludes. Its many contrasts of texture, dynamics and scoring demand great sensitivity and flexibility from all those on stage, but smooth follow-throughs -- obviously resulting from much careful rehearsal -- always ensured a real sense of continuity and held the large audience's attention.

Soloists Rebecca Ryan (soprano), Tessa Romano (alto), Andrew Grenon (tenor) and Joel Amosa (bass) all gave sterling performances in their different ways, though Romano's dulcet tones often failed to carry in the large hall.

Especially impressive were Grenon's expressive ornaments in 'Comfort ye', Ryan's bright delivery of 'Rejoice greatly', and Amosa's stentorian 'The trumpet shall sound' coupled with Ralph Miller's silvery trumpet obbligato.

But it was the choir's part in this great work that brought it most to life for the audience -- they even burst into applause after the 'Hallelujah' chorus! If aggressiveness was needed (in 'He trusted in God'), the choir gave it; if florid counterpoint (in 'His yoke was easy' -- ironically, one of the hardest choruses to sing) was called for, they produced it. Best of all were three choruses sung from memory -- 'Glory to God', 'Lift up your heads' and 'Since by man came death'.

The Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, led by Miranda Adams, added greatly to the performance's strength and seamlessness, with Burchell's well-chosen tempos for the set-pieces always firmly established.

And the continuo group -- cellist David Murray and organist Johnny Mottershead, with Burchell on harpsichord -- were always at the ready for the recitatives.

Not just a pre-Christmas treat, then, but a true treasure!

Reviewed by Donald Cullington, The Star, 12 December 2019.

Pre-Christmas tradition at town hall - hallelujah!

Handel's Messiah
Tuesday 10 December 2019, Dunedin Town Hall

On Tuesday evening, the Dunedin Town Hall resounded with music of one of the best-known oratorios. Messiah by George Frederik Handel.

In recent years Messiah has become a two-yearly Dunedin pre-Christmas event, performed by the Dunedin City Choir and the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra.

The three-hour performance seems to have retained its popularity -- this year's good-sized supporting audience reacted with standing ovation, prolonged applause and "Bravos".

David Burchell conducted from the harpsichord, producing a brilliant overall performance. The choir of 120 achieved excellent standards in their big choruses, two of which ('Lift up your heads' and 'Since by man came death') were memorised, and exceptional balance and beauty of tone were achieved in 'And with his stripes we are healed'.

The tenors excelled in some of their scalic runs, and soprano top register notes were strong and true.

Following the overture, tenor Andrew Grenon opened Part One, achieving relaxed but strong and convincing recitativo with fluency in 'Comfort ye'.

Soprano soloist Rebecca Ryan generated a big, beautiful sound and delivered with melismatic precision and stunning ornamentation. A highlight was her 'I know that my redeemer liveth'. 

Tessa Romano was considerably "under-weight" in her alto solos despite fine melodic decoration and clarity of text.

However, a strong, authoritative style came from bass Joel Amosa, with well-paced scalic shaping and embellishments, not always easy for a bass voice, and I'm sure he wished Handel had not chosen a high E to climax 'The trumpet shall sound'.

The orchestra (led by Miranda Adams) was impressive, especially with string co-ordination of Baroque embellishments, and two trumpet players gilded everything superbly.

I followed the music on my well-worn 19th century family score, alongside a senior singing pupil who was enthralled by her first Messiah experience.

Review by Elizabeth Bouman, Otago Daily Times 12 December 2019.