Auckland Choral opened its 2018 season with the welcome opportunity to experience Anthony Ritchie's Gallipoli to the Somme, after its first performance in Dunedin last year.
This hour-long cantata is a fine addition to the many New Zealand works inspired by the tragedies of World War I. It stands out for both its scale and the care the composer has taken in compiling an impressive range of literary inspiration. Poetry sits alongside the prose of diaries and letters, cleverly supplemented by apt musical references.
The core narrative, based around the experiences of Dunedin violinist and soldier Alexander Aitken, is engrossing and particularly well handled by baritone Jarvis Dams.
Alongside him, soprano Jenny Wollerman also makes a strong impact, from her sensitively sung lament for the writer Edward Thomas to the words of his wife Helen.
Few of our local composers know their musical repertoire as thoroughly as Ritchie and his references are effectively integrated into the score. A rousing Vive l'amour, delivered with gusto by the choir, is grimly ironic in the context of the trenches; weaving a Schubert song into a German episode benefits from the performance having such accomplished singing. Throughout, who better to bring it all magnificently together than the uber-energetic Uwe Grodd?
In Dunedin, Gallipoli to the Somme was accompanied by full orchestra. In Auckland, with forces reduced to 11 skilled players from Pipers Sinfonia and boosted by Philip Smith on organ, it worked extremely well. The opening strings were appropriately sonorous while a passing military march had the spark of cabaret in its bars.
The evening came with a novel and diverting first half as Philip Smith revealed his prowess on the cathedral's new multi-million dollar organ. Two psalm-based pieces by Leonce de Saint-Martin and Jeanne Demessieux gave him licence to release a wonderful array of colours that, with the instrument's pipes being placed on either side of the choir stalls, resulted in thrilling showcase stereo.
What: Auckland Choral
Where: Holy Trinity Cathedral
Reviewer: William Dart