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Australia Tour, Sep 2010 - The Manly Daily, Australia

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It was obvious from the opening short but lovely Arvo Part Slavonic Ave Maria, which quickly melded into an equally beautiful hymn from an all-night vigil by contemporary English composer Sir John Tavener, that the 30-odd mixed sex choral scholars in their academic gowns were a cut above.

From the Tavener, who wrote the vigil for Layton’s other choir at the Temple Church in London, we slipped seamlessly back 450 years to Robert Parsons’s Ave Maria. Then another trip in the Tardis back to the 21st century for Ugis Praulins’s Gloria from Missa Rigensis.  This brought the 16-minute first set to a pause, which allowed the audience to express its awe and delight, despite the request for them to hold their applause until interval.

William Byrd and Thomas Tallis – those two giants of English Tudor church music – neatly sandwiched a rhythmically-challenging Benedictio by Estonian composer Urmas Sisask, before the first half closed with the Swede Sven-David Sandstrom’s take on the Henry Purcell hymn, Hear My Prayer, O Lord. Here the pain and desolation were poignantly highlighted by sliding, descending harmonies.

[The second half] started splendidly with Australian composer Paul Stanhope’s Deserts of Exile – a companion piece to Tallis’s Lamentations of Jeremiah, set against the modern political backdrop of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict… Two lovely songs by the American Morten Lauridsen, with a simple piano accompaniment, were the highlight of the half.

This remarkable choir showed all its artistry and vocal precision in Gustav Holst’s Nunc dimittis… It was a splendid Sydney debut for a choir which draws on its 700-year-old existence to mix the old with the very new.

Steve Moffat