This month, an enthusiastic town hall audience thrilled to the full glory of Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir sharing the stage with the visiting King's Singers.

Also part of the Auckland Arts Festival, nine of their number formed a singing circle in the northernmost of the city's six waterfront silos, encouraging us to meditate with them through 500 years of sacred music in a new and seductive acoustic.

It worked brilliantly.

One could well imagine the music floating through a vaulted cathedral rather than the brutalist concrete walls around us, their visual severity admittedly tempered by a selection of jewel-like artworks by Peata Larkin.


The singers entered with Gregorian chant and, once in a circle, contrasted two simple hymns by Tallis and Rachmaninov, the latter stirring up a spectacular surge of sound. It was a privilege to be part of a choral experience on such an intimate scale, close enough to the singers to lean forward and identify score titles from their electronic tablets; close enough to identify individual vocal strands and occasional tremors.

Nicholas Forbes conducted with a steady and discreet hand as well as contributing a fine solo voice in a Norwegian folksong arranged by Grete Pedersen, its shimmering choral dissonances buzzing around us, as if by some sort of unworldly sorcery.

If more information had been available — there was neither printed programme nor spoken introductions — some may have appreciated that one text (O Nata Lux) was presented in two settings four centuries apart. Tallis provided 16th century consonance while the contemporary American Morten Lauridsen laced chords with mordant clashes.

I suspected that a 1925 setting of Nunc dimittis by Charles Wood was going to be the grand and resonant signing off for the evening. Instead, the programme closed on a quieter and more spiritual note, a motet by William Byrd letting us float away on images of a troubled soul finding peace in heaven.

What: Auckland Arts Festival - Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir
Where: Silo 6
Reviewer: William Dart