Having attended and reviewed three performances now, I am rapidly becoming a fan of this Choir. Their latest offering is one that spans European and Asian, specifically Chinese, musical traditions.
The program opened with the traditional Western music for which this choir is renowned, including works by Hildegard of Bingen, Tallis and Josquin des Prez. However, these were paired with complementary works on the same themes, including traditional Jewish chants (beautifully sung by Rob Hughes and Sebastién Maury) and a 2008 work, “Deserts of Exile”, by Paul Stanhope, the Choir’s director. I especially loved the closing ‘sighing wind’ sections of the “Deserts of Exile”.
The opening work “O Quam Preciosa” took full advantage of the wonderful acoustics of the venue, delivering an ethereal, angelic sound, which really set the audience up for an evening of enjoyment. The accompaniment with the traditional Chinese instruments of the erhu (‘viol’) and guzheng (‘harp’) really worked and created a beautiful fusion of East and West. I look forward to more of this fusion music.
The second half of the concert was devoted to newer music, including several world premiers of works commissioned specifically for the choir. These included works by Percy Grainger, new settings by Julian Yu of traditional Chinese Flower Songs and the setting of “Poem 1”, written and composed by Xingzimin Pan.
It opened with Grainger’s “Australian Up Country” song (from his Stephen Foster inspired period) and “Brigg Fair”, which were both beautifully rendered. However, for many of the audience it was the piano performance of young Joshua Han (aged 11 years) in “In Dahomey” which really took our breath away. This young man has superb and mature technique which well supported his excellent performance of this fun work. Expect to hear more of him. This was followed by Lucia Li (also 11 years old) playing the Grainger setting of the traditional Chinese song “Beautiful Fresh Flower” – a total contrast to “In Dahomey” and drawing on the traditional ‘feminine’ grace associated with this genre of songs! I would suggest downloading the sheet music to this one as it should be fun to play.
The final two works were a group of [Torres Strait] “Island Songs” by Stephen Leek and Ross Edwards’ “Mountain Chant”. In the Island group of songs, you could clearly hear the ‘canoe paddle’ rhythm underlying the song. Glad to say that I could hear every word of these songs!
The last work, “Mountain Chant”, took me back to my times in the Warrumbungles. For those of you who have not been there, I would give them a little time to recover from the recent devastating bushfires and then visit. This music will really help put you in touch with their spirit. The lovely use of bass, the reference to didgeridoo rhythms and frog sounds really helped create a strong sense of place.
We were also treated to a traditional Taiwanese song as an encore. The Choir is about to go on a tour of Asia, so we were all privileged to hear this wonderful repertoire with so many newly commissioned works prior to their departure. I am sure they will have a successful tour.
The concert, performed at Chatswood’s Concourse theatre on Saturday September 21, was recorded by ABCFM, so do make sure to catch it.