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Australia Tour, Aug 2010 - The Australian

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Choral scholars offer a masterclass in sacred music

On a chilly evening in Hobart, the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge began its inaugural concert tour of Australia at Hobart’s Theatre Royal. A capacity audience was treated to an evening of remarkable musicianship from one of the leading mixed-voice choirs in Britain, conducted by Stephen Layton.

With his 32 choral scholars – including two male altos – Layton set forth an ambitious program to reveal contrasts and juxtapositions in sacred music, Protestant and Catholic, from the 16th to the 21st centuries. The program was underpinned by an intention to demonstrate, with Layton’s pithy commentary, how this music often functioned and survived in dangerous political milieus.

For example, a beautiful setting and rendition of Ave Maria by contemporary Polish composer Pawel Lukaszewski, composed in 1992 to celebrate the new freedom of Poland, was first performed in the composer’s home city of Czestochowa in a service presided over by pope John Paul II.

The choir was not assisted by the overly dry acoustic of the Theatre Royal: not a good venue for such an ensemble. This did not detract from some stunning performances, not least the exquisite Angelis suis Deus (2007) by Lithuanian composer Vytautas Mikinis.

The choir is drawn from undergraduate as well as graduate students and the technical facility of these fine musicians is without question. Paul Stanhope’s affecting Deserts of Exile, from his Exile Lamentations (2007)…is a singularly great work performed by an exceptional choir.

Kevin Purcell