Chorale touches the heart

Oriana Chorale: Alabaster
Reviewer: Jennifer Gall
Canberra Times, 12 October 2010

How refreshing to hear a concert dedicated to significant choral music of the 20th and 21st century. David Mackay and the Oriana Chorale boldly embraced the challenging repertoire and provided the audience with a memorable aural journey through the music of Pärt, Tippett, Barber, Whitacre, Maclean, Copland, Howells, Jackson, Toch, Lauridsen and Mackay.

It was exciting and challenging to hear the labyrinthine chromatic writing and sparring rhythms of The Weeping Babe translated by the Oriana Chorale into rich and evocative choral colours. Tippett’s music and Edith Sitwell’s lyrics produced a decidedly edgy nativity carol, mediated through Emma Jenvey’s soaring solo.

The exceptional power of music to penetrate beneath the surface of daily routines and strike at the heart is a reason why we attend performances of live music – to have our thought processes challenged and to be reminded of the inner life. In the company of musicians, time is redefined by sound, activity suspended and a profound form of communication established between audience and performers. The opening bars of Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium initially resonated in predictable harmonic progressions, and then, as the structure built with the growing intensity of the choral arrangement, I was ambushed by the composer’s skill – the music triggering a powerful teenage memory of loss and consolation. I’m sure I was not the only listener to be moved by the afternoon’s performance.

The male and female vocal parts in Samuel Barber’s To be sung on the water cleverly established a sound pattern evoking ebbing and flowing ocean waves, and the choral interweaving was further surveyed in Clare Maclean’s rhythmic explorations in Hope There Is. Ernst Toch’s Geographical Fugue was an invigorating performance in layers of spoken text, contrasting nicely with Whitacre’s i thank You God for most this amazing day, the opening notes building the chords, bouncing from part to part, with Grace Chiu’s sweet soprano stating the inner prayer. As if choreographed deliberately, the fading daylight created a palpable intimacy for Howells’ A Spotless Rose, featuring a mellifluous solo by Geoffrey Brennan. The performance of David Mackay’s Aedh wishes for the cloths of heaven gained in confidence as the ensemble found its balance with the organ. This marriage of Yeats’s sumptuous lines with Mackay’s setting shaped a shiver-down-the-spine experience.

Paul Eldon’s baritone solo in Copland’s Lark shone against the strong rhythmic energy of the ensemble. This was the stand-out performance, with the choir’s combined voices achieving their potential. Mackay’s musical direction is characterised by a warm and generous spirit, and what he gives out is returned by the Oriana Chorale as disciplined, courageous and joyful choral music.