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

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ritchie oratorio launched to heart-rending effect

1 October 2016, Dunedin Town Hall. Photo credit: Pieter du Plessis
Gallipoli to the Somme
Saturday 1 October 2016, Dunedin Town Hall

Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Simon Over, performed another 50th anniversary celebration in the Dunedin Town Hall on Saturday evening with a world premiere marking 100 years since the loss of so many New Zealand soldiers at the Battle of the Somme.

Anthony Ritchie’s oratorio Gallipoli to the Somme for orchestra, choir and two soloists drew text from diaries, poems and traditional songs, taking its title from Alexander Aitken’s book of war experiences in the Otago Battalion.

Aitken carried his violin to war with him, and the 55-minute work began with a beautiful lyrical violin solo (Tessa Petersen) setting the mood for an enduring memorial performance by DSO, 120 members of City Choir Dunedin and Southern Youth choir (directed by David Burchell) and Dunedin’s internationally acclaimed soprano Anna Leese and bass Martin Snell.

The choir was superb, rising to every demand of shading and balance, especially in the strong anthems E te ope tuatahi and All the Hills and Vales Along.

Programme text and detailed references enabled the audience to follow the powerful content of this emotional work, as soprano solos farewelled a lover or mourned the loss of three sons.

Train journeys and military action were assigned bass solos.

Declamatory, often unaccompanied solos were all gloriously delivered, emotional and heart-rending.

Noticeable was the ingenious scoring, never too busy or overshadowing text, yet always in character.

Percussion was important throughout.

After the final chord, complete silence held the audience before prolonged applause and standing ovation rewarded this brilliant new work.

Ritchie will be remembered as one of the greatest composers of his time. There were three other items.

Le Tombeau de Couperin, by Maurice Ravel, originally a six-movement piano suite in memory of six friends killed in World War 1, was later orchestrated.

Swirling sound from tight, tidy strings impressed throughout, with melodic themes suitably prominent. Australian born F. S. Kelly (1881-1916) composed few works before he was killed in action in France.

Elegy for String Orchestra ‘In Memoriam Rupert Brooke’ was written after the death (also at war) of his great friend British poet Rupert Brooke.

Again, the strings (including harp) excelled with rich texture, haunting lyricism and an emotionally laced, soft peaceful final passage.

A big, full orchestral sound for Wagner’s Prelude to Die Maeistersinger ended a magnificent programme.

Review by Elizabeth Bouman, Otago Daily Times, Monday 3 October 2016.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Fine show; Ryan, Barton standouts

City Choir Dunedin. Photo credit Ian Thomson
Theresienmesse & Magnificat
Sunday 3 July 2016, Dunedin Town Hall

Two 18th-century choral works performed on Sunday afternoon by City Choir Dunedin under the direction of David Burchell with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra gave the 85-strong group and four soloists a unique opportunity to shine.

The first half of the programme, C.P.E. Bach's Magnificat in D Major, is a slightly dated work, albeit one that the composer always regarded highly.

Tenor James Adams and bass Matthew Landreth seemed slightly tentative in this work; not so soprano Rebecca Ryan, substituting for Lois Johnston, who was unwell. Ryan turned in such a polished performance that it was difficult to believe that she had been called only a day earlier.

The pick of the soloists, though, was alto Claire Barton, whose duo with Adam seemed to lift his game, and her solo Suscepit Israel was a first-half highlight.

After the interval came Franz Joseph Haydn's Mass No. 12, Theresienmesse, the better of the two works. In it, the soloists work in unison with the choir rather than delivering long solos. This is an attractive technique, which has contributed to the popularity of the work since its debut in 1799.

Possibly because of this interweaving, the soloists all seemed more comfortable than in the Bach, with Ryan and Barton especially pleasing.

Throughout Theresienmesse, the choir gave a sterling performance, the hours of rehearsal showing in polished delivery.

The big disappointment was the thin attendance. The Dunedin Town Hall's acoustics work best with a larger audience and the concert would have been even better had more people made the effort to attend.

Review by Gillian Vine, The Star 7 July 2016.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Choir shows its strength

City Choir Dunedin. Photo credit Ian Thomson
Theresienmesse & Magnificat
Sunday 3 July 2016, Dunedin Town Hall

City Choir Dunedin, vocal soloists and members of the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra directed by David Burchell performed two choral works yesterday in the Dunedin Town Hall.

First up was C.P.E. Bach's The Magnificat in D Major H.772.

This son of the great J.S. Bach was influential in changing the established styles of music and although still very Baroque in character, the nine-section work shows signs of the lyricism to come, notably in the first soprano solo, Quia respexit, confidently delivered by Rebecca Ryan (Invercargill), standing in at very short notice for an indisposed Lois Johnston.

The choir presumably had warmed up but their opening Magnificat lacked the full-bodied impact required to launch this work assertively, although robust passages were evident later, particularly in the final passionate Gloria. Impressive secure melismatic definition from tenor James Adams in Quia fecit was a highlight, and Ryan's duo work with mezzo-soprano Claire Barton was well balanced in an ideal blend of voice tone and timbre. Bass soloist was Matthew Landreth.

Joseph Haydn composed six masses in the years 1796-1802, and Mass No 12 in B Flat "Theresienmesse'' had its first performance in 1799. Haydn was employed by the Esterhazy family for about 30 years, requiring him to regularly compose new works for the court musicians and visiting soloists.

This particular Mass lacks the usual horns and woodwinds, due apparently to a scarcity of those musicians at the time. Scoring then and yesterday was for two clarinets (an exciting new instrument for Haydn), two trumpets, timpani and strings plus chamber organ continuo.

Although clarity of diction in a large amateur choir will nearly always be wanting, yesterday's performers gave an authentic delivery, with good tempi and rhythmic energy, joyful contrasts and generally acceptable choral and instrumental contrapuntal passages. A powerful choral entry of the final Agnus Dei demonstrated the strength of the current City Choir Dunedin.

Review by Elizabeth Bouman, Otago Daily Times 4 July 2016.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Moving rendition of Handel masterpiece

Handel's Messiah

8 December 2015
Dunedin Town Hall

A sizeable audience at the Dunedin Town Hall attended the 2015 City Choir Dunedin performance of Handel's beloved Messiah, directed by David Burchell and accompanied by the Southern Sinfonia.

The work began gracefully in its overture, followed by the lilting "Comfort Ye" sung by tenor David Hamilton. The ensuing opening choruses were sung with bravado and confidence, although occasionally stuttering in rhythmic precision.

The subsequent arias, bold and evocative by bass Martin Snell, declamatory and impassioned by mezzo Wendy Dawn Thompson, heralded the incarnation texts admirably. Brooding majesty was conveyed in Snell's rendition of "For Behold", while the chorus "For Unto Us", sung thereafter, exhibited choral electricity and fervour. Soprano Emma Fraser's introduction to this performance brimmed with radiancy, preparing the audience for the denouement to an engaging Part One.

Part Two, focusing on Christ's self-examination, persecution and exaltation, began in restrained and sobering fashion; the mezzo aria "He Was Despised", while emotive, could have been sung with more powerful delivery.

The ensuing choruses, in particular "All We Like Sheep", were performed with panache, and with a particularly crisp sense of articulation noticeable in the soprano line.

The subsequent tenor solos, parted by the invigorating "He Trusted in God", were moments of real magnificence. Thereafter, the transformation from crucifixion to resurrection, conveyed by Emma Fraser, heralded bright and well-structured singing of the "Ascensiontide" and "Pentecost" choruses. Following Hamilton's ire-laden dashing of the potter's vessel, the famous "Hallelujah" evoked the fulfillment of God's triumph in its text.

Part Three began with Fraser's ornate, occasionally insecure, singing of "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth". The following "Since By Man Came Death" successfully rendered the great contrasts within its text, while Snell's telling of the great mystery and sounding of the trumpets supplied thoroughly invigorating drama.

The closing choruses of Messiah were performed with steady pomp, building in regal intensity, and concluding with a bright and resolute "Amen". Crisply accompanied by the Southern Sinfonia, Burchell's direction of the performance fashioned an emotive, elegant and well-crafted concert.

Reviewed for the Otago Daily Times by George Chittenden, 10 December 2015.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Familiar landscape emotively evoked

These Lands Are Ours

Saturday 26 September
Knox Church

A healthy-sized audience at Knox Church attended a rousing and emotive programme of nationally-inspired music performed by Dunedin Youth Orchestra and City Choir Dunedin.

The first half of the concert, performed solely by the orchestra, began with Douglas Lilburn's Drysdale Overture. This conveyed an impressionistic soundscape of New Zealand's natural beauty, transporting the audience between impetuous cadenzas and broad, elegiac melodies.

The work was performed with gravitas and rhythmic tightness, yet lapsing occasionally in brightness of tuning during some prominent melodic lines.

Thereafter, the first movement of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor featured violinist Matthew Scadden, a performance student at the University of Otago. Whilst a hint of insecurity was evident at the beginning of the work, its performance grew boldly in stature, culminating in an impressive showcase of both soloist and orchestra.

A Run in Ross Creek, written by emerging composer Merlin Callister, evoked the dense greenery of its titular inspiration, conveying the melodic splendour of national-romanticism, whilst spiritedly colouring the musical language with warm, impressionistic vistas. In this, Callister's inspiring tone-poem was performed by the orchestra with abundant relish and panache.

The first half of the concert concluded with Alexander Mackenzie's fervent First Scottish Rhapsody. Through its imitative form and contrasting, nostalgic imagery of Scotland, it is a satisfying and emotive work, conveyed in particular through the compassionate tenderness expressed by the orchestra in the middle section.

Elgar's The Banner of St George provided the second half of the concert, sung with clear appetite by City Choir Dunedin, and accompanied by the orchestra.

David Burchell's direction, passionate and eloquent throughout the concert, piloted this late-Victorian drama of singularly English fashion. In this, the legend of St George and the dragon was conveyed with swashbuckling bravado.

A warm, well-blended choral tone, despite occasional lapses in clarity of diction, crafted a thoroughly inspiring performance; the work typified the excitement of Elgarian spectacle, showcasing the performers' fruitful combination of nimble, dexterous orchestral accompaniment and engaging, charismatic choral singing.

Reviewed by George Chittenden, Otago Daily Times 28 September 2015

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sea & Land concert review

Sea & Land
Saturday 8 August 2015
Knox Church

A choral programme which differed from its more customary repertoire was presented by City Choir Dunedin in Knox Church on Saturday evening, with St Kilda Brass Band, pianist Sandra Crawshaw, mezzo-soprano Claire Barton and tenor Samuel Madden. Conducting was David Burchell.

The evening began with Songs of Sea and Land, a selection of seven New Zealand folk songs arranged for choir with brass accompaniment especially for this occasion by Auckland composer David Hamilton.

The part-singing for these seafaring songs was quite demanding, and at times the brass accompaniment was overwhelming, but Lullaby, with prominent lyrics over softer harmonic brass texture, was very effective and highlights were Darling Johnny O and My Man's Gone with strong solo sections from Barton.

An a capella medley of Afrikaans folk songs (arr. Burchell) was well delivered with generally good balance and nuance.

The popular work by Constant Lambert, The Rio Grande (1972), is a setting of text by Sachacerell Sitwell.

Written for brass band, piano and choir, the work combines ragtime, syncopation and Brazilian influences.

The combination includes a demanding role for the pianist and Crawshaw was in her element, pounding out the syncopation with strength and virtuosity.

Fervent brass sections interspersed the choral text and the percussionists had a ball with this thrilling repertoire.

Three showy band pieces complemented the British folk song choral items of the second half of the programme.

Familiar tunes came with A North Country Fantasie, strong solo tenor from Madden in Brigg Fair and an interesting a capella arrangement of I Love My Love (Gustav Holst).

More mezzo lines were highlights and the final rollicking Green Grow the Rushes O provided an exhilarating finish to the evening.

Review by Elizabeth Bouman in the ODT, Monday 10 August 2015.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Virtuosic piano, then sound and fury

A Sea Symphony
Saturday 18 April 2015
Dunedin Town Hall

City Choir Dunedin and Auckland Choral join the Southern Sinfonia in their production of Vaughan Williams's A Sea Symphony.

A near capacity audience was enthralled by the wash of sound produced by two large works by inexperienced composers in the Dunedin Town Hall on Saturday.

Rachmaninov wrote his Piano Concerto No 1 in F sharp minor when he was just 17 (1890). Its earliest version shows all the the fiery exuberance, the self-indulgent display and confused revelry of adolescence, where melodic repose is merely snatched at.

Pianist Modi Deng's performance showed tremendous virtuosic power, quicksilver speed and as much elegance as can be wrought from the raw work. Her affinity with youthful works, first showcased in her 2010 performance of Chopin's Variations on Mozart's La ci darem la mano, written when Chopin was 19, was again deservedly acclaimed. We look forward to a similar display of her apparent but as yet underexposed expressive strengths.

The Southern Sinfonia was joined by the City Choir Dunedin and the Auckland Choral with guests soprano Anna Leese and baritone Marcin Bronikowski for Vaughan Williams' first symphony, A Sea Symphony (1910), under the direction of Nicholas Braithwaite.

A Sea Symphony washes the audience in sound and conjures images of moody seas.

Both soloists showed remarkable power in making themselves heard against the orchestral storms, thus revealing the work's strength and weakness.

Inevitably, Walt Whitman's fine words are lost in the melee. Though they are printed in the programme, what persists in the ear is the sibilant sounds.

Though performed with uniform dedication producing an enthusiastically received wall of sound, A Sea Symphony remains somewhat frustratingly all sound and fury.

The Southern Sinfonia farewells Stephen Christensen, president of the board, and concertmaster Sydney Manowitz.

The audience acknowledged Manowitz's distinguished and gracious career leadership of 20 years with a unanimous standing ovation, prolonged cheers and stamping feet.

Reviewed for the Otago Daily Times by Marian Poole, 20 April 2015.

Another view on Southern Sinfonia concert

It was a thrilling moment when a massed choir, representing both extremes of the compass of New Zealand, supported by Norma and the forces of the Southern Sinfonia, gave voice to the majestic Sea Symphony on Saturday night at the town hall. If the earth had vibrated at that moment we would not have felt it – such was the excitement of the waves, splashes and power of the sound sweeping over a rapt audience. Great was the contrast provided by the second movement with its delicate tone painting of gossamer-like transparency and the beautiful singing of the baritone soloist in On the Beach Alone at Night. The sea and its extensive moods were well limned throughout a work of much more than mere “sound and fury”. Clearly, not all members of the audience would be in accord with what the reviewer (ODT, 20.4.15) heard and reported about this concert.

As the programme notes made clear, Rachmaninov rewrote his first concerto, smoothing out the “confused revelry of adolescence”, reworking his material into more organic development. Modi Deng grasped this great concerto whole, demonstrating the power and speed that we expect in a performer of her exceptional ability. It was a beautiful and very moving performance. Ms Deng’s poise and wonderful sense of timing showed maturity beyond her years, creating a satisfying performance in all respects. Kudos to Modi Deng, Maestro Braithwaite et al.

John Van Buskirk
North Dunedin

Letter to the the Editor, Otago Daily Times, 21 April 2015.

Reviewed for The Star by Brenda Harwood, 23 April 2015.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Schubert and Mozart glorious with Sinfonia and vocalists

Mozart Requiem

Saturday 28 March 2015
Knox Church

Soloists: soprano Lois Johnston, mezzo-soprano Claire Barton, tenor Matthew Wilson and baritone Robert Tucker

City Choir Dunedin, Southern Sinfonia
Conductor David Burchell

City Choir Dunedin, Southern Sinfonia invited soloists and organist Simon Mace presented two choral masterworks in Knox Church on Saturday evening, conducted by David Burchell.

The choir of more than 100 voices was in excellent form, with reasonable numbers in bass and tenor, and a noticeable presence of younger singers in all sections, promising a healthy future for this city choir.

In 1816 Franz Schubert wrote an oratorio in 12 short movements, focusing on the anguish of Mary, the Mother of Christ. Stabat Mater (D. 383) is a beautiful assemblage of Schubert minor keys, and the performance achieved tragic tones where appropriate to match the German text, with some striking contrasts and impressive dynamics.

Woodwind passages were particularly sensitive, often in tandem with a vocalist, as in Ach, was hatten wir empfunden for oboe and tenor. Soloists were Robert Tucker (baritone), Matthew Wilson (tenor) and Lois Johnston (soprano) whose delivery achieved fitting dominance in solo passages, such as "... together at the Last Judgement", where her final phrase rose triumphantly to soar above choir and instrumentalists.

Mozart's health was failing as he embarked on composing a requiem Mass.

History records interesting "facts and fiction" surrounding the work's editing and completion by others, and it survives as the great Requiem Mass in D minor K. 626. Saturday night's performance was a celebration of the legacy of beautiful music left to the world by Mozart.

Claire Barton (mezzo-soprano) joined the soloists, and quartet passages achieved good balance generally, with text conveying conviction and empathy.

Burchell drew inspirational dynamics with impressive contrasts from his choir and musicians. Passionate shading for Lacrymosa and massive jubilant tone for Sanctus were indeed highlights, filling the packed church venue with glorious sound.

Review by Elizabeth Bouman for the ODT, Monday 30 March 2015.

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.”

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Divine performance, thunderous applause

Haydn's The Creation, NZSO and City Choir Dunedin, 3 September 2014, Dunedin Town Hall

Haydn’s The Creation presents a journey through a fantastic wonderland where man presides over an infinitely bountiful natural world, where love and luxury prevail equitably. It celebrates a miraculous creation devoid of lurking snakes and leaves the listener replete with unworldly exaltation.

In the Dunedin Town Hall, it was divinely performed to a full house by the NZSO, the City Choir Dunedin and soloists soprano Madeleine Pierard, tenor Robin Tritschler and bass Jonathan Lemalu under the inspired direction of Nicholas McGegan.

Although the choir’s part-singing sounded a little muddied at times when concentration was required, overall their sound was cohesive, dedicated and articulate with strong entries.

The solo voices melded beautifully together. All showed tremendous strength in softer passages with Lemalu’s tender tones being particularly pleasing.

Pierard was also notable for her delicacy and agility throughout her range. Their duet as Adam and Eve became as tender a love song as an oratorio can properly allow, enriched with the best of human quality. Tritschler’s tenor was clear with rich finesse.

The work rises gracefully, yet with great moment, out of silence. It relates the creation of life which, banishing gloom, evolves over the mythical seven days, divided into two parts, with a third devoted to Adam and Eve in Eden, to bloom with the simple rapture, joyful bliss, that the natural world inspires.

The playful word painting of water, birds, roaring lions and sinuous tigers were mostly successful.

While Lemalu’s depiction of lowly insects drew a laugh from the audience, the farmyard sounds of chickens and cattle failed to make their wit resound.

Although this long work sometimes tests the audience’s power of concentration, this performance was rewarded with thunderous stamping and prolonged applause. Contemporary cynicism was banished for the night.


Reviewed for the Otago Daily Times by Marian Poole, 4 September 2014.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Triple treat from Dunedin choristers

City Choir Dunedin, Columba College Choirs and Southern Sinfonia ensemble at Knox Church, Saturday 26 July 2014

A near capacity house gave full praise for excellent performances by a showcase of local talent. Three choirs, City Choir Dunedin conducted by David Burchell, and Cantus Columba and Columba Junior Madrigal Choir conducted by Richard Madden, and soloists Cathy Sim (Soprano), Calla Knudsen-Hollebon (Soprano), James Burchell (Alto), Peter Wigglesworth (Tenor), and Clinton Fung (Bass), were most ably accompanied by section leaders from the Southern Sinfonia, pianists Sandra Crawshaw and John van Buskirk and organist Simon Mace. A well-devised programme of twentieth century works brought welcome contemporary relevance.

David Hamilton’s spirituals are a successful meld of Black American and Church of England sounds. City Choir’s enjoyment of the rhythms in Whosoever Will and Walk You in the Light produced aural security. However, divided into three, they never securely conveyed the intricate diversities of Dance-Song to the Creator.

Cantus Columba presented Minoi Minoi, Schubert’s The Lord is my Shepherd and George Harrison’s Here comes the Sun. The choir is a splendid collection of pure juvenile voices and a joy to listen to.
Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb is an occasionally disjointed work, with quirky rhythms and melodic lines and some interesting word painting from the Organ. City Choir’s articulation and aesthetic interpretation was very good.

Knudsen-Hollebon’s treble solo was stunningly beautiful with good attention to the words. James Burchell’s alto solo reveals a good voice hampered by nerves and some difficulty in the lower register. Wigglesworth’s tenor voice grows in both richness and strength and Fung’s bass recitative was also good.

Rutter’s Mass of the Children was the true highlight of the evening. All performers captured its excellently composed heart-warming beauty excellently. Sim and Fung’s voices, the wind ensemble, harp, organ and percussion and the combined choirs melded perfectly and produced pure joy.


Review by Marian Poole for the ODT, 28 July 2014.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Choir and orchestra impressive

Tuesday evening's performance in the Dunedin Town Hall of Handel's Messiah was one of the best I have heard in Dunedin.

City Choir Dunedin with its recent 150th anniversary events and Southern Sinfonia's trip to Japan has seen both these groups step up to impressive new levels in performance.

Musical Director David Burchell conducted an unabridged version from the harpsichord, and the standing ovation and long applause from a large audience confirm my sentiment.

Sinfonia's strings maintained a particularly united tone throughout - tight and free from "loose ends", and trumpet solos were excellent.

Clarity and pulse were seldom compromised and the orchestral "solo" Pastoral Symphony was a beautifully articulated cantabile highlight. Good dynamics and choral blend in Glory to God in the Highest and a brilliant delivery of And with His Stripes we are Healed were choral highlights.

Soloists on this occasion were Lois Johnston, whose pure-toned quality soprano range excelled throughout, with artistic florid embellishment and melismatic passages, several at virtuosic tempi.

Alto Amanda Cole has fine tone and projection in the upper register, which added lustre to decorated cadence points, but there was a lack of strength in the lower voice where many of the solo lines sat, and despite her passion and sincerity the sound failed to dominate, becoming lost in the string blend.

Tenor David Hamilton delivered his text with rapport and strength - such a convincing soloist with mellifluous tone. His commanding narrative in Comfort Ye set a standard for all that followed.

The bass soloist was Jonathan Lemalu, whose voice I find is changing from the youthful clear-toned bass which many locals watched develop. The unique wonderful richness in the timbre remains as does his professional delivery and countenance, but at times heavy vibrato muddies intonation definition in the lower scalic passages.

A triumphant performance overall to herald the festive season.

Review by Elizabeth Bouman for the Otago Daily Times, 12 December 2013.

Feedback received from the audience

From Melissa:
Was so Absolutely Fantastic!! Loved the Choir and the Musicians were Brilliant. Wonderful production.

From Catherine:
I think this was the best performance you've done - congratulations to everyone involved!

From Rosalind:
A sparkling performance from start to finish! The tone clear and bright throughout, beautifully light and dancing in the fast numbers (All We Like Sheep, His Yoke is Easy, He Shall Purify etc) a full-bodied and thrilling sound in the big choruses but never ponderous or heavy. My niece who had just arrived from UK where she has heard many Messiah performances pronounced it "Storming!"

From Jane:
As you may know, I was ushering last night, not singing. I thought I would pass on to you a comment I overheard as patrons were leaving. One old gentleman (probably around 80) said: "It's the best Messiah I've heard for years!" Judging by his age and the fact that I've seen him at many many classical music concerts over the years, I believe it to have been a heartfelt comment.

From Anne:
Friends thought it was the best performance they had heard. And I really liked this from another friend of mine: “One of the best parts of that Messiah last night was the altos! You all were so smooth and strong.”

From Marguerite:
I was walking down Moray Place after the concert and I met two women whom I didn't know from Adam who said, "What a wonderful performance, it was great"!

From Judy:
The Messiah was the best performance I've ever heard from the choir. It was their combined total enthusiasm.

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."

Friday, July 5, 2013

Performance a triumph


"The soft opening passages of choral texture with orchestra melded as one, with long sustained release of "m's" ending the word "Requiem" exquisitely effective." ...
"Spine-tingling choral highlights were numerous, and the recurring crescendo descending scale passages in the Dies irae saw Direcotr David Burchell's vision for the choir realise fulfilment on this occasion."

Review by Elizabeth Bouman, The Star, 4 July 2013.

Verdi Requiem, 27 June 2013, Town Hall at the Dunedin Centre.
NZSO with City Choir Dunedin, conducted by Pietari Inkinen

(Click image to enlarge)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Requiem still thrills for Verdi's 200th birthday


Verdi's Messa da Requiem, Lisa Harper-Brown, Margaret Medlyn, Rosario La Spina, Judd Arthur, Orpheus Choir, Members of City Choir Dunedin, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pietari Inkenen, Michael Fowler Centre, Saturday 29 June 2013.
Reviewed for the Dominion Post by John Button.

"The Verdi Requiem is an immensely popular work and the Fowler Centre was predictably very full for this tingling performance."

Correction: City Choir Dunedin sent 60 singers to the performances in Auckland and Wellington, and 80 singers to Christchurch. City Choir had 140+ singers in Dunedin.

Other reviews of the Wellington performance:

Rachel Hyde on Radio NZ Concert Upbeat, 1 July 2013

Tremendous panache from performers in Verdi’s epic Requiem by Frances Robinson for Middle C

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cruelty of mortality thrillingly expressed


One hundred and fifty years and many reincarnations later, the City Choir Dunedin might deserve a less backhanded tribute from the Dunedin City Council but, as one reflection of the city, endures as a powerful statement of European culture in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Their celebration of this feat was greatly enhanced by joining forces with the NZSO under the direction of Pietari Inkinen. The excellence of the performance was not lost on the crowded house, which gave thunderous prolonged applause with shouts and stamping feet as if to crack the Dunedin Town Hall’s floorboards. 

Verdi’s Requiem is an astonishingly unnerving work, replete with the mystery and Christian fear of death. Rising from the murky quiet of “Kyrie”, “Dies Irae” [The Wrath of God] unleashes a doomsday thunder. Siren screams and the tight trills of Satan’s seduction illustrate what awaits the dying. Although there are occasional lighter moments in “Sanctus”, a statement of piety, “Agnus Dei” [Lamb of God] and “Lux Eterna” [Eternal Light], this is a grim work of highly gothic Romanticism. It revels in beautiful terror and has intensely chilling power. Put briefly, it is a highly successful expression of the cruelty of human mortality. 

All sections of Orchestra and Choir were notable for the supreme dedication to creating an excellent performance, although some the Choir’s fugal passages would have gained more moment through a greater show of confidence. 

The soloists, soprano Lisa Harper-­Brown, mezzo-soprano Margaret Medlyn, tenor Rosario La Spina and bass Judd Arthur produced some spell-binding, delicate and blockbuster moments. Special mention has to go to the impeccably beautiful ensemble work in “Lacrimosa” [Weeping], Harper-Brown and Medlyn’s truly glorious duet “Recordare” [Remember] and to Harper-­Brown’s dramatically compelling “Libera Me” [Deliver Me]. 

One wonders what else we can expect from future collaborations between the imperial forces of the NZSO and City Choir Dunedin.

Review by Marian Poole, Otago Daily Times, 28 June 2013.

Verdi Requiem, 27 June 2013, Dunedin Town Hall.
NZSO with City Choir Dunedin, conducted by Pietari Inkinen

Audience comments: 
'Absolutely spine-tingling'
'I've never sat so still for so long, it was riveting'
'Brilliant and amazing!'
'Thank you that was fantastic. You are lucky being able to do it all again.'
'Watched everything closely, you guys never missed a step.'
'Electrifying concert last night in Dunedin everyone!! Well done!!'
'Thoroughly wonderful evening. Kind regards and my commendations to all in your "Big Sing" hearts and minds in harmony...'

"'Requiem' by NZSO, city choir wonderful" - reads the headline of the Civis column in the ODT on Saturday 6 July. "Last week's performance of Verdi's 'Requiem' by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and City Choir Dunedin was outstanding: dramatic and exciting for a large audience... And there was an eerie sensation when trumpets sounded from the door just behind us, answering those in the opposite circle doorway, and in the orchestra. The performance was deeply moving, and a magnificent way to celebrate the choir's sesquicentennial. Congratulations to the choir, and to David Burchell, its Director."

And here's another report, this time by Mike Crowl, who also enjoyed the Dunedin performance.

Were you there? What did you think of the performance? Leave a comment here or send us an email to - we'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ethereal magic in sacred work


"The opening, fragile and barely audible, was magical, setting the scene for the whole performance, secure and sensively shaped by Pietari Inkenen" says David Sell in The Press.

Verdi Requiem, 26 June 2013, Canterbury CBS Areana, Christchurch. NZSO with Christchurch City Choir and members of City Choir Dunedin, conducted by Pietari Inkinen

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Verdi concert welcome ray of sunshine


"Pietari Inkenen created a mood of appropriate serenity while the combined voices of Auckland Choral and Dunedin's City Choir moved smoothly, within seconds, from whispered testaments of faith to rousing a capella.

The great hurled cries of the Dies Irae were spectacular, against the orchestra's sonic fire and brimstone."

Reviewed by William Dart for the NZ Herald.

Verdi's Messa da Requiem, with soloists Lisa Harper-Brown, Margaret Medlyn, Rosario La Spina, Judd Arthur, Auckland Choral, 60 members of City Choir Dunedin, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pietari Inkenen, Auckland Town Hall, Saturday 22 June 2013.

Other reviews of the Auckland performance:

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and a star tenor shine in Verdi's Requiem in Auckland by Simon Holden

The day of judgment by Rod Bliss in The Listener of 6-12 July 2013 (click to view larger size):

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Verdi Requiem in May 2000

Performance enthrals audience

The City of Dunedin Choir shared top billing with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in the Town Hall on Saturday evening [27 May 2000] in a magnificent performance of Verdi's Requiem.

Musical director David Burchell has certainly brought out the best in this 150-member choir. Intensive preparation and disciplined rehearsals have lifted them to the heights required for performance with a professional orchestra of international standing and international soloists.

Confident and forthright singing came from all sections of the choir throughout.

Verdi's Requiem covers the full range of choral and orchestral nuance and conductor James Judd delivered a highly dramatic and impassioned Requiem, in strong Verdian style.

Even familiarity with requiem components and the non-secular text failed to keep heavy operatic overtones at bay and the large audience was presented with a musical fresco of emotional extremes.

Full-bodies tumultous assaults marked the opening of each "Dies Irae" chorus with thrilling effect and little use was made of accepted rubato practice to allow the more subdued passages of rich harmonic testures to linger.

The soloists generally followed strong forthright deliveries in keeping with the entire mood, but with occasional lapses in projection of emotional commitment to the text.

The solemn beauty and soaring strength of the final Soprano aria Lord, deliver me out of everlasting death rang out before the subdued final phrases "Save me, Oh Lord", then a moment of absolute silence cued tumultuous applause from an enthralled audience.

Soloists were soprano Lisa Gasteen, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Campbell (both from Australia), tenor Anson Austin and bass Rodney McCann (both New Zealand born).

Review by Elizabeth Bouman in the ODT, Monday 29 May 2000.

What a wonderful performance that was!
Come hear City Choir Dunedin and the NZSO do it again:

Thursday 27 June, 6:30 pm, Dunedin Town Hall 

Tickets are now on sale!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Anthony Ritchie reviews Nature's Bounty

Review of City Choir Dunedin’s concert ‘Nature’s Bounty’, Sunday March 23, 2013.

‘Nature’s Bounty’ was an excellent way to open celebrations for the City Choir Dunedin’s 150th anniversary, this year. It successfully presented a mixture of the contemporary with the Victorian: a new work by New Zealand composer Christopher Marshall, a recent work by renowned Dunedin composer Jack Speirs, and a late 19th century work by Coleridge-Taylor. It was an ambitious programme, with plenty of taxing music for the choir, which they tackled very well.

The choir has good numbers at present, but suffer from a lack of tenors, a perennial problem for choirs. Their sound projected well in Knox Church, against lively orchestral accompaniments in the Marshall and Coleridge-Taylor works, and diction was generally strong.

The focal point of the evening was the specially commissioned work ‘For What Can Be More Beautiful?’ by Christopher Marshall, funded by Creative NZ. Marshall’s work is unashameably polystylistic, shifting from romantic sounds at the start to more exotic, almost Latin sounds in the second movement, with harmonic twists that belong to a more contemporary style. In this respect he is unusual in the NZ compositional scene. As he himself said, the music borders on cliché on occasions but has a fresh ‘take’ on ideas from the past. The romantic style of the opening seemed a suitable way to celebrate a choir who originated in the 19th century. The choir relished these early passages, with full lyrical tone that floated above the lush orchestration. Contrapuntal passages were simply scored and effective, and there was some nice word painting. The climax of this long first movement was striking, and strongly executed by the choir.

I personally found some of the scoring too busy for my liking, as it infringed on the choral sound rather than enhancing it. This was especially so in the second movement where the tricky rhythms undermined the choral tone – the members were concentrating so hard on staying in the right place that the sound weakened a little.  Despite this, the general mood and pace of this movement was upbeat and lively, thanks in no small part to the conductor David Burchell, who kept the forces together very well.

The new work was well received by the audience, and those I talked to were enthusiastic about it. It presented challenges but the hard work put in seemed to bring rewards to both performers and audience.

The new work sparkled with many orchestral colours and lush choral scoring; by contrast, Jack Speirs ‘Cantico del Sole’ seems austere and economical. For me this was the highlight of the evening, in that the work is perfectly scored for choir and has some lovely orchestration, coupled with a stunning soprano line, sung beautifully by rising star, Grace Park. The men in the choir were secure on their chant-like lines, and modal passages were very nicely in tune. On the whole, the choir’s intonation was excellent in this concert. ‘Cantico del Sole’ shows the influence of Arvo Pärt, is strong in character, and is arresting for the audience. It is a work that deserves more performances.

Rounding the evening was Coleridge-Taylor’s ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast’, a piece of entertaining and exotic Victoriana. The challenge of this work is the text: the huge number of words meant that diction is crucial, and by and large the choir managed well. In some places the orchestra were rather too exuberant for both choir and soloist, Matthew Wilson, and they were rather drowned out. Otherwise, this was a solid performance, and a pleasant way to conclude the concert.

In conclusion, I would say the risk of putting on this programme of new and old worked well, and the audience went away satisfied. The choir has started its anniversary year in good form, having been expertly directed by David Burchell.

By Anthony Ritchie