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Review: GRADUATE SINGERS – NATIVITY Points The Way Towards Christmas

Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, 12th December 2015

The Graduate Singers were formed by graduates from the two university choral societies in Adelaide, which explains why I recognized more than twenty of the people in the performance in St Peter's Cathedral. Bolstered by more recent graduates, and a few ring-ins, sixty singers under the direction of Karl Geiger, made a suitably strong and joyful noise in Nativity.

With the exception of the two carols in the program, all the works were unfamiliar to me, and I guess to most of the audience, and each of them was impressive in concept and execution. The two carols were both worth commenting on. The John Rutter arrangement of Silent Night was complex and focussed, but the Reginald Jacques arrangement of Away in a Manger made something very clear. Karl Geiger walked away from the choir, sat by a pillar of the cathedral and, without his clear beat and encouraging gestures, they sang superbly with no lagging behind the beat and no appreciable flattening of pitch. A choir that can go it alone is one that has great confidence in its ability, and in a conductor who both fosters that and trusts it. Most people in the audience would have enjoyed the warmth of the delivery without realising what was underscoring it.

The death of Ian Carrig robbed Adelaide's music scene of a dedicated supporter and a fine, though under-recognized composer. He was inter alia the founding chair of the Adelaide Youth Orchestra, an early, if not foundation member of the Corinthian Singers, and music director of St Oswald's Church in Parkside, for which he arranged music for the weekly services using, reportedly, whoever was available and catering to their level of performing skill.

His setting of Hodie: a boy was born, his first piece composed in 1967 and revised in 2007, showed his familiarity not just with the choral voice, but the great tradition of Anglican Church music, starting with Tallis and the other Elizabethan composers. It's a work to hear twice and, as the concert is being repeated in the more intimate surroundings of Christ Church North Adelaide on Sunday 20th at 2.30 pm, I'll be able to do just that.

Interviewed recently for the arts programs of Radio Adelaide and 5EBI FM, Karl Geiger explained that he'd found the Respighi Lauda Per la Nativita del Signore, and then cast about for another work that would require the handful of woodwind for which that work is scored. He found Howard Blake's Four Songs of the Nativity.

Blake is a prolific and versatile British composer. In Australia he's probably only known as the composer of Walking on Air, the song which propelled Aled Jones from a church choir to an international career, and back into church again as a compere of Songs of Praise. Otherwise know as the Passion of Mary, the work sets four medieval poems in modern translation. The choral writing is, at times, dense, but always flowing easily from voice to voice. There's a small woodwind ensemble, flutes, oboe, cor anglais, and bassoons. While the instrumental writing doesn't play a huge part in the success of the work, the combining textures of voices and instruments was very engaging. The brief soprano and tenor solos were taken by Amelia Holds and Norbert Hohl.

Norbert Hohl was an important part of the success of the major work on the program, Lauda per la Nativita del Signore by Ottorino Respighi, a setting of a medieval poem attributed to Jacopone da Todi, the Franciscan. Three soloists, two sopranos and one tenor, and a wind ensemble briefly bolstered by a piano, join the choir. The work is in medieval Italian and I'd have liked a bit more crispness in the diction, though there was a libretto and translation in the program. Hohl was the shepherd, Brooke Window the angel, and Emma Horwood was Mary. Hohl possesses a powerful voice, well deployed. I'd not heard Brooke Window sing in quite some time. She has a bright appealing sound and the beautifully floated high notes of the Angel's part were confidently delivered.

Emma Horwood is a highly praised singer and harpist, and in the role of Mary she sang with great heart and voice. There's really sweet duet for voice and cor anglais, played on this occasion by Austin Zilm, that was melting and fine.

Again the choir sang proudly, and the long a cappella section in the movement of the angels and shepherd were excellently delivered.

As I mentioned, there's a second performance, and I'm going.

From This Author - Barry Lenny

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