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