REVIEW: Augsburger Allgemeiner, July 3
Vocal acrobatics and musical magic in the Basilica
CHAMBER CHOIR FROM MELBOURNE WITH PHENOMENAL QUALITY IN THE DILLINGEN BASILICA by Gernot Walter
Warsaw, Berlin, Hamburg, Dillingen: all stops on the European tour of the Australian Chamber Choir from Melbourne, who made their sensational debut in the Basilica last Sunday afternoon. Douglas Lawrence, who appeared as a guest performer on the Sandner organ in 2008, had founded the Australian Chamber Choir a year earlier, and has honed it into an ensemble of international standard. The choir’s eight men and ten women demonstrated impressive versatility in a scintillating programme. They built bridges between Indigenous Australian and western culture, between the old world and the new world, and between the music of three continents and five centuries. From the renaissance, the programme included William Byrd’s “Sing Joyfully” and Orlando Gibbons’ “Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis”, beside Schumann’s motet for double choir “An die Sterne”, Anton Arensky’s “Otsche Nash” (Our Father) and “Fürchte dich nicht”, a motet for eight-part double choir by J.S. Bach.
Thanks to his studies in Europe, Douglas Lawrence is very familiar with the harmonic and contrapuntal a cappella styles of the renaissance and baroque, knows how to differentiate and express the sensibilities reflected in the romantic period, and touches the very heart of Slavic piety. The choir fulfilled the conductor’s intentions with exactitude, clarity and deep understanding. Exemplary intonation and astounding rhythmic precision are Lawrence’s hallmarks, to which the choir responds with beautiful, transparent and evocative soundscapes. The Basilica’s marvellous acoustic further transformed this pinnacle of choral singing into a divine song of praise.
The choir demonstrated an astounding ability to effect a complete musical about-face – never before had the Basilica experienced such radical and ecstatic musical extremes. In “As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams” (Anne Boyd, 1975), the choir’s task was to realise a work based on an 11th-century Japanese poem, in which the Australian composer gives voice to the surreal ambience and rigid constraints that permeate the culture of the Far East. For her musical resources, Boyd chose an extended whole-tone scale resembling those of traditional Japanese music. In “Awit ni Solomon” (1990) the 20-year-old Filipino composer Robin Estrada applied extended vocal techniques to evoke sounds of the jungle in an innovative work that combines western forms with south-east Asian musical styles. Lastly, in her “Lexicon of Dreams” (2013), Christine McCombe reflected on Dream(time) journeys reminiscent of pathways observed in the landscape during an out-of-body experience. Forests, wide rivers, the ocean and a limitless blue sky reflect a typical Australian sensibility. Under Douglas Lawrence’s inspirational direction, a strange, labyrinthine cosmos evolved, highlighting the capabilities of all the singers and conjuring up both mystical depth and dazzling eruptions. The voice was employed as an instrument to portray mental states, with the singers merging their choral personalities into a ravishing performance. Axel Flierl, the organist responsible for engaging the choir, started off this memorable concert with a masterful delivery of the Prelude and Fugue BWV 541 by J.S. Bach, and framed the Schumann motet with two canonic pieces by the same composer. The sizeable audience gave overwhelming – and deserved – applause, earning two deeply moving spirituals as an encore.
Translation Brent Annable