Echo, Darmstadt review
The … singers … moved with ease between rich balmy textures and the most stunning piano sound. … in the face of … harmonic audacity, the intonation always rang pure.
DARMSTADT – Choir Concert – The Australian Chamber Choir provides exotic opening to the International Organ Summer
Exotic sounds filled the Pauluskirche on Wednesday at the first concert of the International Organ Summer: the Australian Chamber Choir opened the series with rarely heard contemporary works from Down Under, juxtaposing evocative sounds from the Australian bush with early music.
The church this evening was pleasantly cool, much like the cool and crisp Mass for Double Choir in G minor, which Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote in 1921 for London’s Westminster Cathedral. The Australian Chamber Choir, appearing by invitation in Darmstadt as part of its European tour, presented this at the beginning of an ambitious program, their strong and versatile choral sound alternating empathy and warmth with clarity and light throughout the work.
Avoiding complicated polyphony, Vaughan Williams creates a unique sound world. The eighteen singers of the choir, founded in 2007, moved with ease between rich balmy textures and the most stunning piano sound. Even in the face of Williams’ harmonic audacity, the intonation always rang pure.
Minimal direction was needed for the densely constructed, ten-part vocal polyphony of Antonio Lotti’s Crucifixus and Giovanni Gabrieli’s Magnificat, a work which demonstrates the double choir surround-sound effect created for St Mark’s, Venice. The choir’s founder and musical director Douglas Lawrence conveyed the sleek elegance of the Magnificat setting with minimal gestures, while the ensemble rendered the harmony with orchestral perfection. They captivated the audience with their amazing expression, especially in the contemporary contributions from their homeland.
These were Tom Henry’s Kakadu Man, setting texts by Gagadju elder, Bill Neidjie, who died in 2002, and Stephen Leek’s Kondalilla. These particularly special works beautifully enrich the choir’s repertoire. Texts dealing with the ancient wisdom of man’s dependence upon nature and his connection to the earth provide the emotional basis of the fascinating Kakadu Man, a music that seems to penetrate into visionary dreamscapes, and after stringent dissonance surprises with a resolution into blissful thirds. Spectacular also was Kondalilla, from Great Southern Spirits by Stephen Leek: singers dispersed around the spacious church made didgeridoo-like sounds and the chortling, cheeping, tweeting and buzzing sounds of nature.
The choristers consistently impressed with their exploration of sonority and atmospheric depth, particularly evident in the difficult choral transcription by Elizabeth Anderson of Jehan Alain’s ChoraleDorien.
Pauluskirche cantor Wolfgang Kleber complemented the character of these choral works in his interlude, the prelude from the Organ Suite Op. 5 of Maurice Duruflé. Here, Kleber’s expression of grief showed intense empathy with the character of the preceding choral work.
Although the fugal sections of the final Bach motet, Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, lacked some of the uniformity and transparency of previous works, these qualities returned with the final chorale. And with two fabulously florid Afro-American Spirituals presented as encores.
Echo, Darmstadt, July 4, 2015