Concert review: Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir, Auckland Town Hall

By William Dart

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New Zealand Chamber Choir artistic director Karen Grylls. Photo / Supplied
New Zealand Chamber Choir artistic director Karen Grylls. Photo / Supplied

Chamber Music New Zealand's final offering of the year gave us one of our most celebrated ambassadorial teams - Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir.

Best of all, its Voices of Aotearoa programme showcased the music that these singers took to the recent World Choral Symposium in Patagonia.

The entrance of Horomona Horo with his taonga puoro was dramatic, eventually blending into the men's voices as they furnished a backdrop for Hildegard of Bingen's O viridissima Virga.

The boldest effect came from the women moving around the stage, creating a sonic kaleidoscope as each sang her own fragment of the chant.

Karen Grylls has primed her 16 singers to stand alongside the best internationally. They unleashed the requisite fire (and occasional sweetness) of Morten Lauridsen's Madrigali and illuminated the telling floral portraits of Britten's Five Flower Songs.

However, as with New Zealand works that presented the words of Ian Wedde and Charles Brasch, printed texts of the poetry would have been appreciated.

At the end of the concert, Purcell's expressive Music for a While saw the choir in limpid harmony with Pepe Becker's exemplary solo.

This choir has always fostered the homegrown. Douglas Mews' 1972 Ghosts, Fire, Water had James Kirkup's spoken text convince as it does not always do, although a soprano soloist was no substitute for an authoritative lower voice.

Pounamu, Helen Fisher's idyllic entwining of koauau and voice, grows in stature with every hearing, and Horomona Horo was very much in the spotlight for David Hamilton's newly commissioned Karakia of the Stars.

With a choral wash of sound that evoked an image of Ligeti on the marae, the composer combined Horo's eloquent koauau solo, the insistent tapping of stones, small hand-held bells chimed by the singers and fervent vocal solos from Becker and Victoria Chamannee.

It was a finely realised cultural synthesis with the women sometimes echoing the falling phrases of waiata, the men calling on the urgency of haka with the occasional foot stamp.

And perhaps, with an election imminent, and the subsistence-level lives of too many New Zealanders an issue, a plea to the stars for bountiful food has a piquant irony.

What: Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir
Where: Auckland Town Hall
When: Monday, November 21

- Herald online

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