7 January 2013

A short history of Western music

So said David Mackay. He was welcoming a generous audience to a performance by the Coro chamber choir in the High Court foyer. It was another free concert for the Canberra 100 Musical Offerings series. Coro is a relatively new chamber choir formed by David and Paul Eldon. David mentioned there were some gaps in this history – 200 years and Bach and Handel missing in the Baroque years – but this was certainly a broad sweep of styles and beautifully performed. The voices merged mellifluously with gentle attacks for each note, the choristers were obviously listening with care and there were some particularly satisfying and identifiable voices. You heard individual voices in solos or feature lines, but also when the voice was aimed in your direction. This was not a large choir (11 on the day and fewer for several pieces) and it was laid out in a curved line fronting the audience. The space was generous. The High Court foyer is tall: cubic in form with intrusions of concrete stairways and ramps and some adjacent low ceilings, so the space is modern and irregular and clean and quite dry. It’s also spacious and dignified and sparsely decorated. Perfect for a modern chamber choir.

The concert started with Caritas abundant by Hildegard von Bingen: calm, meditative chant sung by male countertenor and four women. Then an original setting by David Yardley for an olde English lullaby with harp called Lullay, lullay litel child; Nigra sum sedis formosa by Tomas Luios de Victoria, sounding of classic cathedral choirs; an amorous love song from Jon Dowland called Come away, come, sweet love; and the interwoven melody of Zefira torna by Monteverdi. Then a jump from late-Renassance / early Baroque to classical. First Mozart’s Piu non si travano with counterpoint, then Mendelssohn’s Auf ihrem Grab with richer, bigger chords, and Vaughan-Williams sounding of sweet English country. Then into the twentieth century. Nils Lindberg’s settgign for Shakespeare’s connet, Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day, introduced some chromatic movements and harmonies and sweeping melodic movements rather than contrapuntal interplay. Edward Higginbotham’s arrangement for O Waly, Waly was more individualist, starting with featured tenor then soprano voices. I particularly enjoyed the following tune by Eric Whiteacre and strained to catch the lyrics. This marriage was a tender and thoughtful but optimistic lyric, obviously written to be sung at a wedding. This was lovely and touching and contemporary. Then a final song by David Mackay, Mary-darkness, which was lightly dissonant with moving tones and dedicated to his wife.

It was a broad spectrum and I particularly enjoyed the more modern songs, I think because they have been less common at the choral concerts that I’ve attended. What a satisfying concert and competent choir. I’ll look forward to catching more from Coro. On the day, Coro were Gabriel Bieniek, Jane Haycock, Jo Johnstone (sopranos), Maartje Sevenster, David Yardley (altos), Paul Eldon, David Mackay, John Virgoe (tenors), Ian Blake, Andrew Fysh, Daniel Sanderson (basses).

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