The voices of the 19 young singers are trained at the highest level.  A lightning-crisp intonation rings through a naturally blended sound. The unaccompanied works of the evening begun in perfect tune without any preparatory humming, as the choir wended its way with the greatest security through music of many periods and styles.

Echo, Darmstadt

 

Chamber Choir from Australia Brings Asylum Seeker Stories to Darmstadt

19.07.2017 Australian Chamber Choir, Pauluskirche

From: Susanne Döring, Echo, Darmstadt
Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2017

In Australia, as in Europe, refugees are an important topic. When they reach Australia, those who arrive by boat are confined to smaller islands in an attempt to prevent them from making a claim for asylum on the mainland … The Australian Chamber Choir illuminated the acuteness of this problem in this year’s European tour program, presented on Wednesday as part of the Pauluskirche’s International Organ Summer.

Conductor Douglas Lawrence curated the program around several settings of Psalm 137, By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept: The Israelites bemoan the loss of their homeland and their oppression by the Babylonians.

At the centre of Wednesday’s program stood a new work commissioned by the Australian Chamber Choir: Uncertain Journeys (from Tom Henry – born in Melbourne in 1971) uses the words of refugees, who, in Australia must endure a long wait before their applications for asylum are assessed. The texts deal with arrival in a foreign place, the boat-peoples’ cries for help, their desperation that God has deserted them and their hopes for freedom. Henry has created a richly evocative work in which the sounds of a surging sea form a backdrop against which the text is delivered: choral sound overlaps sprechstimme, resolving into wordless vocalise passages that seem to symbolise speechlessness in the face of overwhelming emotion.

Despite all this hopelessness, the work ends with a shout of joy celebrating freedom. The choir delivered this harmonically demanding work with great strength and several singers impressed with moving solos.

The voices of the 19 young singers are trained at the highest level.  A lightning-crisp intonation rings through a naturally blended sound. The unaccompanied works of the evening begun in perfect tune without any preparatory humming, as the choir wended its way with the greatest security through music of many periods and styles.

In addition to Henry’s Uncertain Journeys, Douglas Lawrence and his singers also thrilled the large audience with works of Johann Sebastian Bach (the two Motets Ich lasse dich nicht and Fürchte dich nicht) and several Renaissance composers alongside two 20th Century works. On the one hand, in Frank Martin’s Shakespeare setting, Full Fathom Five (1950), the choir produced the intense sound of bells tolling. On the other hand in the  Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (1951) of Herbert Howells, accompanied by organist Ria Angelika Polo, they filled a veritable cathedral with sound …

The Psalm theme continued through Bach’s Choral An Wasserflüssen Babylon as through Palestrina’s Super Flumina Babylonis.

With settings of the traditional Deep River and I want Jesus to walk with me as encores, the singers and their director demonstrated that Afro-American Spirituals are also part of the repertoire of this multi-faceted choir.

Echo, Darmstadt, July 20, 2017

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