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Australia 2016

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Magnificent ensemble hits right notes in a performance that was simply the best

Town Hall, Adelaide
21 July 2016

It was as audacious as they go. What encore could possibly follow the stunningly ecstatic final bars of Howells’ famous ‘Te Deum’ (Collegium Regale) ending a program of breath-taking vocal virtuosity covering 300 years of church music? Why, Duke Ellington’s It don’t Mean a Thing of course.

The sheer exhilaration of hearing American jazz so suddenly was typical of shocks to the system delivered by Gramophone readers’ choice as the World’s fifth Best Choir. Indeed the choir’s energy, bravura and brilliance in an ecclesiastical genre might have encouraged dazed listeners to upgrade them to simply The Best. To remark that their entire program was memorised might seem superfluous were it not that their immediacy and vibrancy appeared tangibly enhanced.

They can sing splendidly without a conductor too, and their initial bracket of English 16th and 17th century works without director Stephen Layton brought audience and choir very close indeed as they sang to us rather than through him. But once he was there things shifted up a gear as the choir took on 20th and 21st century European and Australian works with dazzling intensity. And there are only 30 or so singers.

Elgar’s psalm setting Give unto the Lord, a miniature Gerontius from his best years, proved immensely persuasive but Frank Martin’s initially unperformed Mass for Unaccompanied Double Choir provided the program’s real core, its richly contoured polyphony and lush harmonies given full voice by this magnificent ensemble.

Rodney Smith