Concert review: Victoria Chorale: In Song ‘13
John Amner: Come Let’s Rejoice
Francis Poulenc: O Magnum Mysterium
Hodie Christus Natus Est
Romualds Jermaks: Laudate Pueri Dominum
Urmas Sisask: Alleluja
Vytautas Miskinis: Ave Vera Virginitas
Eric Whitacre: A Boy and a Girl
Ola Gjeilo: Northern Lights
Alexandru Pascanu: Sarba Pe Scaun (Sarba Dance on a Chair)
Cole Porter: Anything Goes
Manning Sherwin: A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square
Beatles/King’s Singers Blackbird
Stacey Gibbs: Way Over in Beulah Lan’
George Gershwin: I Got Rhythm
Coldplay: Fix You
Martin Carbow: Journey to Brazil
Yong Siew Toh Recital Hall
25 August 2013
Review by Lara Saldanha
The Victoria School and Victoria College are clearly doing something right in their music education program: their alumni chorus, the Victoria Chorale, sing with a joy for music making paralleled by few ensembles. The semi-professional chorus sang a challenging a cappella program featuring pieces in styles ranging from a Renaissance anthem to Coldplay in celebration of their 25th birthday.
The programme opened with John Amner’s anthem ‘Come Let’s Rejoice,’ showing off the Chorale’s greatest strengths: excellent intonation supported by a pleasing full sound with a robust male sound as well as stylistically appropriate light female singing. The Poulenc that followed, however, showed off the ensemble’s weaknesses: blending issues in the bass section and a shrill soprano sound in ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ and a lack of vocal agility in the joyful melismatic lines of ‘Hodie Christus Natus Est’.
The set that followed featured compositions by three Baltic composers: Romualds Jermaks, Urmas Sisask and Vytautas Miskinis. This was about all the three pieces had in common, however; as the Jermaks featured majestic trumpet flourishes, the Sisask is an interesting fusion of Western Gregorian Chant with Eastern sensibilities and the Miskinis has a sonoristic feel, with repeating fragments woven together to create a shimmering whole. The final set featured love songs by popular American choral composer Eric Whitacre, which was meticulously well shaped and Norwegian-American composer Ola Gjeilo. The half was rounded off by a rousing Romanian folk song with an excellent use of vocal percussion driving a lively performance.
The Chorale seemed far more at home in the second half, featuring favourites of the conductor and the singers. While the first half had featured standards of the choral repertoire as well as some contemporary names, the second half revealed the ensemble’s lighter side. The half started with a number from the musical ‘Anything Goes,’ complete with a change of costume and choreography, followed by conductor Nelson Kwei’s choice, ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.’ Of all the pieces of the night, this was probably best suited to the ensemble’s clear, warm timbre.
The ensemble then forayed into arrangements of popular songs in the Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Blackbird.’ Though some may dismiss popular tunes as easier to sing, this genre of music brings its own challenges, in this case how to imitate instrumental accompaniment in a choral accompaniment to a soloist. The Chorale was split for the two Beatles songs, one half performing each piece, a rather unfortunate choice: the reduced ensemble lacked the confidence and robustness of sound that the full ensemble had displayed earlier. This was not helped by the rather saccharine arrangement of ‘Yesterday’ chosen, which detracted from the simple nostalgia of the original. Although the King’s Singers arrangement of ‘Blackbird’ is truly delightful, preserving the simplicity of the guitar accompaniment of the original, the use of multiple soloists was distracting, and the accompaniment did not cohere into a simple guitar line. The ensemble later performed another piece of popular music, Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’, that was something truly special: the audience seemed frozen, entranced. In striking contrast to ‘Blackbird,’ the accompaniment gelled, powered the force of the full ensemble, into a beautiful undercurrent to a soloist that did justice to the original—a tall order. The night was rounded off by a few more familiar favourites, ‘Way Over in Beulah Lan’,’ featuring a beautiful, rich male sound stylistically appropriate to the spiritual, Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’ and Carbow’s ‘Journey to Brazil.’
That university students and professionals have been willing to sacrifice their weekends to the Victoria Chorale for 25 years is a remarkable feat, but what makes it truly exceptional is the love for music-making that this ensemble so clearly portrays. Like any chorus, the Victoria Chorale has its faults, but ultimately, the Victoria Chorale is strong in its fundamentals. The ensemble’s robust sound, attention to stylistic details and pool of talented singers will ensure that it remains a presence in Singapore for years to come.