Classical review: Heartwarming treat for a bleak winter day

Review of 'Follow the Star' in Dunedin, from the Otago Daily Times

ST Paul’s Cathedral was the venue for Voices New Zealand’s midwinter Yulefest recital entitled ‘‘Follow the Star’’.

We hear so much about the country’s top sports teams, but I was delighted to review Saturday’s Dunedin performance by one of New Zealand’s international award winning choirs.

New Zealand composers were represented with six newly commissioned choral arrangements of traditional carols, and the 24 semiprofessional singers directed by internationally acclaimed choral conductor Karen Grylls rendered magnificent interpretations of the a capella settings.

Clarity of text is often lost in this venue, but overarticulation would have destroyed the magic and beauty of this genre’s pure kaleidoscopic resonance.

Katrin Johnsson (language and vocal coach) introduced items with relevant poetic extracts by contemporary English poet Godfrey Rust.

Spirited renderings of two versions of Nova Nova (one by Samoan composer Igelese Ete of Moana soundtrack fame) accustomed both choir and the large audience to cathedral acoustics and reverb, and revealed the choir’s strength and projection.

Familiar themes and ‘‘falalahs’’ of Deck the Halls were subtly encased in diverse rhythmic blends in a modern take by Chris Artley, and Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, newly arranged by Dunedin composer Anthony Ritchie, highlighted an immaculate union of sound, particularly in the unwavering soprano fadeout.

O Magnum Mysterium (Daniel Elder) featured melded whirling circles of tight harmonies — so effective.

Nonintrusive soprano solo lyricism over everchanging harmonic fabric illuminated David Hamilton’s Quittez Pasteurs, then came a contrast with Star of Wonder, by Eve de CastroRobinson, when bass drum percussion set contemporary tonality in a palate of pulsating dynamics but leaving discerning traces of the popular traditional carol.

Stars, by Eriks Esenvalds, used effective waterglass accompaniment, complementing the surround of sound, as choir members grouped in threes in the side aisles.

The recital ended with Birthday Sleep (John Tavener) and Hodie Christus Natus est, by Robert Wiremu.

Such a heartwarming treat for a bleak winter day.