What: J.S.Bach St Matthew Passion

Who: Hamilton Civic Choir with St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra

When: Saturday Sept 20th at St Paul’s Collegiate Chapel, Hamilton and Sunday Sept 21st at St Mathews-in-the-City, Auckland.

Musical Director: Timothy Carpenter

Soloists: Soprano- Jayne Tankersley, Mezzo-Soprano Sarah Court, Tenor- Lachlan Craig, Bass- James Harrison

Reviewed by: Rogan Falla

Passiontide Majesty

Johann Sebastian Bach’s St Matthew Passion is undeniably one of the greatest compositions ever written and was founded on Bach’s own deep personal Christian faith.  Such a monumental work demands forces worthy of it.  They were present in the performances given by the Hamilton Civic Choir and St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra and soloists in Hamilton and Auckland on 20 and 21 March – days before Bach’s 336th birthday.  Conductor Timothy Carpenter directed soloists, choir, continuo players and orchestra with total authority and a compelling conducting style.  In Auckland the wonderful acoustics of St Matthews enhanced the whole performance.

All four soloists were impressive.  Lachlan Craig as the Evangelist carried the heaviest burden and anchored the whole narrative with great eloquence.  James Harrison, as Jesus, sang the role with gravitas and total conviction.  His aria Mache dich, mein Herze, rein, was masterly.  The two women soloists, Jayne Tankersley, with her bell-like soprano and Sarah Court, contralto, sang with great emotional depth.  The continuo parts were all played immaculately, by Dr Philip Smith (chamber organ), Chris Greenslade (harpsichord) and Yotam Levy on the very prominent cello line.  Several members of the choir sang the minor roles very competently.

The oratorio was sung in the original German but there was a full English translation in the programme.  The choir sang with well-articulated phrases, moving apparently effortlessly between the contemplative chorales and the crowd scenes calling for Jesus’s execution.

The orchestra, divided into two sections, was equally well prepared.  Rachel Moxham and Michael McLellan led the two groups and shared the two great violin solos – in the alto aria Erbarme dich, and the bass aria Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder.  The woodwinds were particularly important to the ensemble, the higher lines of flute and oboe penetrating the string accompaniment.

The oratorio is a profoundly moving work and the lengthy pause made after the Evangelist announced the death of Jesus was very dramatic.  The final chorus, expressing grief and love was sung with great majesty and reverence.

The performance, evidence of great co-operation between forces in two cities, was wonderfully fulfilling for the audience and I hope the performers.  A noteworthy milestone in the choir’s and orchestra’s histories.


What: Handel’s Messiah

Who: Hamilton Civic Choir with the OCT Ensemble

When: Sunday 13th December

Where: St Peter’s Cathedral 

Musical Director: Timothy Carpenter

Soloists: Soprano – Hannah Bryant, Alto – Cecily Shaw, Tenor – Kolitha Jayatunge, Baritone – Aidan Phillips.

Reviewed by Andrew Buchanan-Smart 

Handel’s sacred Oratorio the Messiah composed in 1742, judging from the size of the audience filling the Cathedral the work is still loved through the generations by audiences 278 years later.  Throughout the ensemble gave a stylish performance with Carpenter directing from the harpsichord.

It was pleasing to see that all the soloists were both members of the choir and all young. The Choir has a fine tradition of performing this repertoire and it was pleasing to see and hear a combination of both experienced choristers as well as youthful voices. In the Messiah Handel asks the choir to sing in both polyphonic and homophonic style. I mention this because there was a difference in the quality of sound between the different styles.  The polyphonic had colour, clarity and warmth that captured the essence with attention to detail with some superb singing. In contrast the homophonic passages did not have as much colour, clarity and depth of tone.  As a general observation, the soloists on occasion could have projected a little more above the dynamics of the orchestra.  

Of the soloists, the stand out performance was Cecily Shaw’s gorgeous velvety colours were well articulated in O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, and in the heartfelt and beautifully presented He was despised and rejected of men. Hannah Bryant gave a lyrical performance of I know that my Redeemer liveth.  Kolitha Jayatunge in the opening Comfort ye, comfort ye my people saith your God, was like silk, while his Thou shalt break them, could have been more declamatory with greater projection, but the tenderness in Thy rebuke has broken His heart was present.  The baritone Aiden Phillips showed his agility throughout, nowhere more so than in Why do the Nations so furiously rage together. On occasion he was challenged by the lower reaches in bass register.  

All-round an enjoyable performance with much to recommend which bodes well for the future. It was pleasing to attend a live performance after such Covid enforced non-availability of live performances. 


When We Were Young: Songs of Childhood

What: When We Were Young: Songs of Childhood
Who: Hamilton Civic Choir with Tronsongsters Childresn’s Choir
When: Sunday, July 7 2019
Where: Cambridge Town Hall
Conductors: Timothy Carpenter, Hamilton Civic Choir, and Hannah Bryant and Maria Colvin, TronSongsters.
Accompanists: Francis Cowan and Angela Smith
Reviewer: Sam Edwards

There are oft forgotten voices in choral performance. To have pianists with the technical authority and the musical sensitivity to interpret the music in fresh and authentic ways is fundamental to audience understanding and response. In this performance, in the persons of Smith and Cowan, we had two such singluar musicians, genius labelled accompanist.

Accompanists are second only to the conductors in establishing the harmonic lines and tempi which turn the music from bog Victorian noise to the wonderfully woven soundscapes which can bring audiences to foot-tabbing joy or reduce them to tears. This afternoon, during a male voice rendering of Kurt Bestor’s Prayer of the Children, audience tears, released or withheld were a response to a singular beauty in which grief was the primary emotion, and purity the aesthetic. It was uplifting, emotionally recharging, and memorable.

The emerging TronSongsters Children’s Choir, containing the fortunate precursors of choirs like Hamilton Civic, sang a quartet of pleasures. They pressed the juciest Orange Tree – ” …one can learn much from an orange tree…” and from the people who sing it. They cracked Humpty Dumpty wide open, and produced some unexpectedly pure Māori vowels in an equally unexpectedly fresh rendiring of the traditional Pokarekare Ana. Bryant and Colvin deserve support and plaudits in equally heaping helpings.

The civic programme had moments of sheer virtuosity. Their control of the complex rhythmic structure of Rutter’s florid choral extravaganza, Sing a Song of six Pence, was masterly. In the second Rutter piece, the final work, the choir’s delivery of Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat enabled the audience to sail away on a pea-green fantasy, well satisfied by their unexpectedly powerful return to that land we only revisit in our dreams, childhood.


St John Passion

What: St John Passion
Who: Hamilton Civic Choir with St Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra
When: Saturday, 15 September 2018
Where: St Peter’s Cathedral, Hamilton
Composer: J.S. Bach
Soloists: Lachlan Craig, Jayne Tankersley, Sarah Court, Joel Amosa, James Bush, Philip Smith.
Conductor: Timothy Carpenter

The afternoon was warm. The conversation was of netball and children and the spring weather. The orchestra was tuned and the choir in situ, without rostra, in the soundshell sanctuary of St Peter’s Cathedral. Conductor Carpenter raised his baton. Slow silence, expectant, but not overdoing it. The baton was still. So were we. The baton moved and so did the orchestra, and an exquisitely balanced, sensitively tuned dynamically perfect sound emerged, lasted a few bars with a wee crescendo, the choir came in, and the world lit up.

Not just with spring sunlight, but a choral chord which was, like the orchestra’s introduction, perfectly pitched and balanced. The dynamic blast, however, from that first choral chord introducing the narrative of the last days of Christ, heralded nearly two unbroken hours of some of of the best choral singing with the most enriching orchestral interpretation to have been heard in this most appropriate venue.

It was written nearly 300 years go and somehow, miraculously, Carpenter and his crews recreated that original sensibilty and made it accessible to this 21st-century audience,. In part it was through the immaculately cast soloists, from Lachlan Craig’s Evangelist to Ian Campbell’s Pilate and Joel Amosa’s superabundant bass as Christ. Partly it was the orchestral virtuosity and responsiveness to the moment, even enhancing Jayne Tankersley’s incomparable soprano.

There is a particular nod to James Bush’s sublime cello, including his lead into Sarah Court’s exquisite Es ist vollbracht!, and Philip Smith’s consummate continuo marathon. Partly it was a matchless Civic Choir, at last paying attention to coach and so producing the pre-eminent performance.

The sopranos were tonally immaculate, and the blend with the altos would have turned 18th-century heads. From the opening chords to the majestic final chorale, Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein, this was uniquely beautiful Bach. The audience thanks you.

See original review here:

Ave Maria

What: Ave Maria: A corpus of sacred music
Who: Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Saturday 14 July 2018
Where: St Peter’s Cathedral, Hamilton
Works by: Bach, Britten, Rachmaninoff and others
Conductor: Timothy Carpenter and Francis Cowan

In the significant beginning was the founding father, Guyon Wells. Then came the matriarch, Dr Rachael Griffiths-Hughes, who nurtured and elevated the choir to a new maturity before handing on one of the best classical choirs in New Zealand to the natural heir, Timothy Carpenter, the night’s maestro. He has enriched and promoted his inheritance, and this performance demonstrated a choir unique in both sound and quality.

On Saturday afternoon, the audience packed the acoustically dramatic St Peter’s Cathedral to hear stunning choral classics like the pulse-raising, bass-driven Bogoroditse Devo, delivered in a style even Rachmaninoff himself would have applauded. Here there was history, always relevant, albeit sometimes, perhaps, apocryphal, like the story of the young Mozart hearing Allegri’s Misere Mei and going home, writing it out from memory, and using it without even paying royalties.

And the choir, already memorable in the opening bars, went on to perform the Allegri with a resonance and purity of tone which hallmarked this performance. Works were sung with a rare a cappella beauty, except when Carpenter took to the organ with Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater or Bach’s Magnificat, when the beauty was supplemented by the instrumental version of a choir – the pipe organ. Demanding, wide ranging, beautiful music. This is a choir to be enjoyed and supported, and heard whenever you get the chance.

See original review here:


What: Dreamweaver, Song of the Universal and other works
Who: Distingished Concerts Singers International (formed of Hamilton Civic Choir and other invited choirs) and Distingished Concerts Orchestra, Meredith Lustic (Soprano), and Jessica Grigg (Alto)
When: Sunday April 15, 2018
Where: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
Conductor: James M. Meaders and Miran Vaupotić
Reviewer: Rorianne Schrade  for New York Concert Review; New York, NY

Once again Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) demonstrated the power of music on a massive scale in their recent concert at Carnegie Hall. It was another extravaganza.

Behind it all, of course, is a mission of encouraging music far and wide through performance and education, and in tribute to one who devoted decades to this mission, James M. Meaders, DCINY Conductor, presented the DCINY Educator Laureate Award to conductor, arranger, author, and educator, Dr. Milburn Price at the program’s opening. It set a tone of reverence to start off the evening.

For the music itself, Norwegian Ola Gjeilo and American Dan Forrest were the two featured composers whose major works were presented, alongside shorter works by Michael J. Evans, Joseph Deems Taylor, Dwight Beckham, and Matej Meštrović. Mr. Gjeilo and Mr. Forrest share some remarkable similarities in some ways. Both happen to have been born in 1978, and both write music that employs rather conservative tonality in exploring spiritual themes. Both are part of a growing wave of choral music that often hearkens back to days of chant, while freely tapping into multicultural or folk material, the simple harmonies and spare textures of New Age music, and some cinematic orchestral elements. Both composers are, perhaps needless to say, immensely popular.

Whatever one’s musical style preferences might be, it is hard not to admire the passion with which several hundred choir members on Sunday embraced both composer’s works. The Distinguished Concerts Singers International, the core group, along with the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, set the stage for committed performances by choruses from the states of California, Florida, Georgia Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oregon South Carolina, Texas, and Washington, as well as Australia, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, and (as DCINY’s printed material states) “individuals from around the globe.” Wow!

Mr. Gjeilo, known as the composer-in-residence with the well-loved group, Voces8 (heard on Decca with the choir, Tenebrae), has composed for other notable groups as well, such as the Phoenix Chorale, whose bestselling Northern Lights collection on Chandos was named iTunes Best Classical Vocal Album of 2012. Mr. Gjeilo has also released crossover piano albums Stone Rose and Piano Improvisations, parts of which this listener has heard and would characterize as “New Age.” As a disclaimer, New Age is not a style of which this listener is terribly fond in general, though, Mr. Gjeilo’s persuasive gifts make that stance difficult.

The first work we heard on Sunday was Mr. Ojeilo’s set of seven choral pieces called Dreamweaver, including movements, Prologue, Dreamsong, The Bridge, Intermezzo, Paradise, Dominion, and Epilogues. Mr. Ojeilo’s biography states that “his music often draws inspiration from movies and cinematic music” – and one could certainly hear that marked influence on Sunday. In the movement entitled Bridge, built largely on a rhythmically driving repeated bass note beneath surging crescendi, one could easily imagine a film hero engaged in desperate struggle, and indeed, the text of Dreamweaver features its own hero. It is based on the Norwegian medieval folk poem, Draumkvedet (with translated text by Charles Anthony Silvestri) in which its protagonist, after a thirteen-day sleep, recounts his dreams of “brave, beautiful, terrifying, and ultimately redeeming journey through the afterlife” (in the composer’s words).

The alternation of hymn-like calm and robust cinematic flourishes made for immediately gratifying dramatic episodes, even if occasionally one felt a yearning for the slower burn of a work by Beethoven or Brahms. Highlights were expressive solos from the string principals and some subtle chordal surprises in the opening movement Prologue.

Mr. Gjielo’s Song of the Universal followed, set to a text of Walt Whitman. Opening with a quiet choral hum, the music built to ecstatic peaks. The piano alternated between providing glassy rhythmic treble timbres and simply underscoring the basic harmonies. A personal reservation from this listener was that occasionally when the piano served merely to outline or double the harmonies, it detracted from, rather than adding to, the transcendent effect as a whole, lending things a more pedestrian feeling. Overall, though, Gjeilo’s pieces – and their performances – emerged as music that should engage this increasingly “attention deficit” world. Maestro James M. Meaders conducted with marvelous mastery and energy, as he did again later in the Dan Forrest work.

One would be remiss not to mention the superb soprano, Meredith Lustig, whose sound soared with great purity with and above the chorus. She also sang in the second half to grace the Forrest work, as did exceptional alto, Jessica Grigg.

The evening was all in all quite a success. The audience appeared to love every minute. In this day of decrying empty seats in concert halls, DCINY apparently has their answer to that problem.

See full review here:

From Hamilton to New York

What: From Hamilton to New York
: Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Saturday 24 March 2018
Where: Te Awamutu Theatre
Conductor: Timothy Carpenter
Works by: Ola Gjeilo, Carl Neilsen, Jaako Mäntyjärvi, David Childs, and others
Reviewer: Sam Edwards

In a fortnight’s time, Hamilton Civic Choir flies to New York to sing, by invitation, in Carnegie Hall. Andrew Carnegie was an international philanthropist and supporter of the arts. That doesn’t mean the choir goes expenses paid. They do not – and they will gratefully accept donations in support of the choir, but Carnegie’s architectural legacy is one of those wonderful gifts which helps display, and share, musical brilliance to the world. This choir is brilliant, and on Saturday performed worlds from their New York programme.

It was an eclectic, essential modern list, and began with Purcell’s supplicatory anthem, Hear My Prayer. It was an interesting choice of title, and perhaps had something to do with the improvements which followed.

This concert came at a time when the choir in full preparation.

Not all works are yet at an equal level, but one has to smile at other titles which included the beautiful Douglas Mews work, A Sound Came From Heaven – and there were moments when that seemed true – and then doubled down to the Shakespeare poem set by Jaako Mantyjarvi, Double Double Toil and Trouble, as an iconic cry for perfection – or funding – or the perfect entry.

It is notable that the entire concert of twelve works and an encore stylishly arranged by choir tenor John Heritage, ranged across very different genres, engaged with music of more than usual complexity, and was sung entirely a cappella.

The engagement at the Carnegie has such promise, and (in a quite aside to our city financiers,) will bring a new and valuable perspective to the way Hamilton is perceived from outside. Ad bene, choristarum. Ut maneat vobiscum in musica – which my muse tells me means ‘Go well, choristers. May the music be with you.’

See original review here:


Faure Requiem

What: Requiem in D minor Op 48 and other works from contributing & assembled choirs 
: Hamilton Civic Choir, the choirs of St Paul’s Collegiate, St Peter’s Cambridge, Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, and guest members.
When: Saturday 14 October 2017
Where: St Paul’s Collegiate Chapel
Conductor: Timothy Carpenter
Reviewer: Sam Edwards

This was a musical experience full of optimism and enjoyment. The optimism came with three secondary school choirs enjoying their participation with the Hamlton Civic Choir in tonight’s production of Gabriel Faure’s 1890s Requiem in D minor. Some seventy students, otherwise full of sporty stuff and social media, had a thoroughly good time with seriously difficult classical music. It comes from a drive by the Civic Choir, supported by the Royal Schools of Church Music, to make first rate classical music more widely available to listeners and provide platforms for performers in the Waikato region. The combined choir ended up with 140 singers – a modern, medium sized, Victorian Choral Society. The danger with that is a loss of vocal quality, and in the uneasy accoustic of St Paul’s chapel the combined choir had some rough spots, but it also produced moments of great beauty.

In the Faure, the Sanctus particularly, produced stunning vocal dynamics which were supported by a most memorable and elegantly delivered duet of harp and violin. The choral range was huge. In addiiton to the Faure, arrangements of Maori waiata contrasted with Finzi and Kodaly, a collection of spirituals, and the oddball and utterly onomatopoeic experience which is Toto’s Africa. This was a musical soiree with a difference. It had purpose, passion, a great deal of popular support, and real promise for the future of serious music in this country.

30 Years Later: Waikato Museum Celebrations

What: 30 Years Later: Waikato Museum Celebrations
: Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Sunday 8th October
Where: Te Whare Taonga o Waikato
Works by: Douglas Mews, Michael Tippett and others
Conductor: Timothy Carpenter

Thirty years ago the Hamilton Civic choir performed as part of the celebrations marking the opening of the Waikato Museum of Art and History. The new institution was seen as a cultural coming of age for the city, and the growth in musical power of the choir is an interesting reflection of the cultural growth of the city. Thirty years ago the choir was Hamilton’s foremost classical ensemble, and has since become one of New Zealand’s preeminent exponents of choral music

After today’s celebratory concert, it was clear that their recent invitation to sing in New York’s iconic Carnegie Hall was a genuine recognition of its international quality and not a lucky sugar daddy trick.

Sunday’s program was based on their earlier 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…concert, and in the crisper acoustic of gallery 12, where the choir had sung those three decades ago, there was a richness and authority which was impressive.

The choir is fortunate in a membership which includes soloists who can also handle choral music, and in a number of the works, an individual chorister provided an independant line which, in the context of the a cappella arrangements, was spine tingling.

Remarkably accurate harmony, exquisitely sculpted dynamics, tempi to match mood and lyrical content – oh dear! I will stop before I become merely fulsome.

As a public concert, freely and generously given, and so engagingly presented, it had qualities such as othe choirs can only dream of. We hope the public will be as generous in their support for the Carnegie Tour as the choir was with Sunday’s audience.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1: A Concert of Numbers

What: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1: A Concert of Numbers
: Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Sunday 6 August 2017
Where: St Andrew’s Church, Cambridge
Works by: Copland, Stanford and others
Conductor: Timothy Carpenter
Accompanist: Francis Cowan
Reviewer: Sam Edwards

Hamilton Civic Choir recently received an invitation to sing in New York’s iconic Carnegie Hall. They will travel during 2018, and when asked, pre-performance, for comment about the invitation, conductor Carpenter said it is a testament to how well the choir is doing.

A few minutes later the choir was demonstrating the truth behind Carpenter’s assertion. In a pot-pourri of quite demanding choral works the choir offered a range of choral delights which displayed the growing power and vision of this iconic local ensemble. A mixed bag performance is believed to be fraught with danger – the programmer can only hope to please some of the people for a few moments, but rarely everyone at the same time and never everyone for all of the time. Mr Carpenter quickly deconstructed that myth, and went on drive his choir through a programme of seven composers with only one, Brahms, writing before the beginning of the 20th century. Every work was so technically and musically interesting it deserves extended paragraph space. No room here for that, so instead, here are original scribblings, the sharp notes (sic) upon which those paragraphs would have been based.

Whitacre’s Animal Crackers’ Magnificently organic sound, rare dynamic range. Gjeilo’s Ubi Caritas – the work which brought the choir its Carnegie Hall call – a capella perfection, flowing phrasing, perfect pitch and harmonic balance, superb choral sound to match some of the best professional moments – and we heard it in a small provincial town in the Antipodes.

Brahms’s Liebeslied valses – immaculate endings, explosively emotional atmospherics, such disciplined breath control, such refined bassi and lyrical tenori!.

Stanford’sThree Motets – Oh, the interactive alchemy of confident double choir performances where ALL choristers have the eyes fixed on their industrious leader, the Beate, a capella magic, where the beate was handed from one section to another in a seamless silken thread of sound in which even the basses were beautiful.

Tippett and his Five Negro Spirituals with the ornamented melody of Steal Away lifting the music beyond mere folk to contemporary classical excitement, moving on to Deep River where the men (truly)  provided the most powerfully delicate foundation.

Inimitable Copland which gathered stunning variations at the river, music so often overcooked by well meaning singers but here a delicate marvel, albeit a little walky, which surprised, but beautifully tuned, and then the excruciatingly difficult rhythms of Ching-a-ring and its swirling currents of sound which soprano purity made perfect.

Another Whitacre, the Lux Aurumque which translates as light and gold, so chocolate smooth, so deliciously refined that I wrote Whittaker’s by mistake.

Harmonies interwoven to make the perfect musical mosaic – despite being in a different key from the less than engagingly strident and intrusive Cambridge siren call to its volunteers which went on to usher in Baldwin’s Mother Goose, musically significant,  and also a sung reminder of the musical genius of top accompanists, in this case Mr Francis Cowan.
The Carnegie is going to enjoy a wonderful sound next year.

Going for Baroque

What: Going For Baroque
Hamilton Civic Choir and Opus Chamber Orchestra
Saturday 6 May, 2017
St Peter’s Cathedral
Timothy Carpenter
Reviewer: Sam Edwards

The excitement was palpable.

A dozen people were, like modern day Martin Luthers, busy nailing their personal music manifesto to the doors of St Peter’s Cathedral by being present well before the doors opened at 4.30pm for the 5pm start.

By 4.50pm, the Cathedal was close to being full.

The choir filled their allotted positions in the sanctuary with its wonderful accoustic multipliying qualities – of error as well as success.
The orchestra tuned, the Chairperson introduced the concert, and gradually, despite an initial patina of white noise from gossiping whisperers, a deep silence focussed performers and audience alike. Into the silence strode Musical Director Carpenter. A cough in the audience. He waited. The silence became profound. The baton was raised.
In the silence all breathing paused, the baton descended and the first chords of Handel’s majestic, dramatic, Zadok The Priest, sounded.

Those bars of unbearable tension before the choir comes in with that initial, heart-stopping chord had the hair at the nape of everyone’s neck standing up in expectation.

It was a beginning like no other, and it opened a concert like no other.
It was memorable for the soloists who came from the ranks of the choir and would have outsung professional imports. They were five voices remarkably in tune with the music, and over the others, on this day, soared the alto voice of Laura Downey in her first solo engagement with Hamilton Civic Choir. Full, rich, and authoritative, her voice elevated the J. S. Bach Lutheran Mass in G Minor from the really interesting to the really beautiful – interesting included.

It should be noted that Wells founded the Department of Music in the university of Waikato, Griffiths-Hughes is a senior lecturer in that department, and conductor Carpenter is a BMus who majored in Performance Cello at Waikato. Without the existence of that department, tonight ‘s performance simply could not have happened. We would not have had Zadok performed with such dramatic zest and technical command. We would not have experienced the extraordinary soundscapes of Vivaldi’s Gloria with its superbly under-wrought sensitivity and passion. We would have lost the chance to experience vocal control which delivered phrase endings which dissolved with unbelievable delicacy, so unlike the final glottal stoppery which, in this work, so often sounds like a banging in of nails.

The extraordinary combination of Felicity Hanlon’s oboe, Martin Griffiths’s cello, and Hannah Bryant’s soprano would have remained unsung, and we would never have been transported through Eric Whitacre’s utterly beautiful exploration of modern dissonances and traditional melodies, combinations of shapes and textures, of ideas and images which create a kaleidoscope of mood and individual response.

This concert, which displayed the choir performing at a remarkable level, was indeed something to cherish.

Flower Songs

What: Flower Songs: A vocal bouquet in the Gardens
Who: Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Sunday March 12, 2017
Where: Hamilton Gardens
Works by: Baldwin, Finzi, Lauridsen and others
Conductor: Timothy Carpenter
Accompanist: Francis Cowan
Reviewer: Sam Edwards

The rain fell.
What was to have been a concert in the Piazza needed a change of venue, and the choir ended up in the pavilion. Some recent upgrading, including felting on walls and carpeting on floors has brought a pleasant acoustic to the big hall. Instead of Flower Songs in the gardens, we had harmony in the hall, and what harmony it was. The Carpenter touch is becoming more assured, more creative, and the choir is responding with quite magnificent music.
Because the accompanist was the remarkable Francis Cowan, the concert occasionally, and appropriately, turned into a choir/piano duet, especially in the classic Greensleeves, and the jazzy George Shearing interpretation of two Shakespearean sonnets where that old clanger, Who is Sylvia?,  combined sentiment and foot tapping entertainment in equal parts and the choral and piano music perfectly illuminated the text.

This was a unique choral programme.
The individual works were well known, at least to choristers, but the combination offered 16th century madrigals sung with verve and an amazing dynamic – and rather excitingly faster than most choirs could handle, and a tenderly affectionate rendering of Burns’s  My Love is like a red red rose. An engaging new arrangement by New Zealand composer Andrew Baldwin, and a bewitching a capella opening from soprano Anna Billings gave the traditional love song a new and irresistible face.

Such sensitive and evocative music experiences demand an unusual degree of understanding from singers, and it was not always there.
Just occasionally, as in the traditional Greensleeves, one wondered if the male choristers had really understood the emotional sensitivity which underlay the lyrics, and needed such a brassy timbre in a simple folk song about love and rejection.

By contrast, the balanced and discerning interpretation of the two poems from Morten Lauridsen’s Rose Song cycle was, as the choir declared in their opening number from Gerald Finzi’s stirring My Spirit Sang all Day, a joy.
My spirit is still singing.

Christmas Fantasia

What: Christmas Fantasia
Who: Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Saturday December 17, 2017
Where: St. Peter’s Cathedral
Works: Christmas music
Conductor: Timothy Carpenter
Soloists: Jonathan Eyers, bass; Yotam Levy, cello; Philip Smith, organ
Reviewer: Sam Edwards

Oh, the excitement. Imagine, a week before Christmas after weeks of tinsel-tune nightmares, to be present at an event where participatory carol singing was so enthusiastic that one could utter at full voice and not be heard. Round that up with a descant for each carol sung by a choral soprano ensemble which is rapidly becoming one of the best in the country, and there were moments of sheer magic. Around those carols, conductor Timothy Carpenter had arranged of programme which celebrated the best of Christmas music and had worked a singular magic with the rapidly evolving Hamilton Civic Choir to bring that music to life. So often choirs in performance take time to settle. On Saturday night, Carpenter raised his baton, waited through seconds of what seems like extraordinary ego building vanity, but is actually the essence of discipline. When every eye was upon the conductor, he gave the slightest of encouraging nods, and brought the choir in to begin his interpretation of the Mendelssohn motet Frohlocket, ihr Volkerauf Erden. Controlled, dramatic, perfectly balanced and articulated musically, it was a capella singing with a dynamic range at a new level for this choir. As the choir moved in to Baldwin’s 2011 work, Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, the audience was confronted by unusual tonalities and unexpected intervals of a work new enough to be as strange as it is compelling. The composer, a New Zealander currently living in the UK, was in the audience, and was clearly pleased by audience reaction to musical requirements which stretched the choir remarkably. Much of it was kept tuned by the authority of soprano Emma Carpenter who took a pitch perfect lead in a work which required enormous focus. The two works were iconic introductions to an evening which had beauty, intelligence, passion, and creative authority. The first half was remarkable. Carpenter’s breadth of vision and musical authority appears to be taking Hamilton Civic in new and breathtaking directions. Long may it continue.

These members, however, are also human. They were still to sing powerful music, including Vaughn Williams’s demanding Fantasia on Christmas Carols,before they had even finished the first half. When they returned after the interval, they appeared to have dropped the energy and focus levels. Mathias’s A Babe is Born was efficiently handled, but the oddly uninspired collection of familiar Christmas music, organised into a carol-sequence seemed not to give the choir the energy it needed. The choir was, at times, even better than the music, but there were moments in the Bogoritdise devo from Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil where the choir inadevertently demonstrated the difficulty of lifting choral music from a very different tradition. The basso profundo voice is rare in New Zealand, and this work requires that pedal sound with its full resonance to provide the foundation upon which the upper voices rest, and so the Rachmaninoff felt incomplete. That is not a reflection on the choir. The choir is singing superbly, but they are currently an orchestra without double basses. That aside, here is a top choral ensemble, still building the traditions handed on by former conductors like Guyon Wells and Rachael Griffiths-Hughes, and now re-energised by the inspirational Timothy Carpenter. The choir’s programme for 2017 looks to be unmissable.


Verdi Requiem

What: Messa Da Requiem
Who: Bach Musica NZ and The Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Saturday October 8th, 2016
Where: St Paul’s Collegiate School Chapel
Work by: Guiseppe Verdi
Conductor: Rita Paczian
Soloists: Morag Atchison (soprano), Catrin Johnsson (mezzo), David Hamilton (tenor), Joel Amosa (bass)
Reviewer: Sam Edwards

This astounding work is more usually known simply as Verdi’s Requiem. It is one of the music world’s great anomalies, a funeral mass which sounds like an opera and evokes in its listeners such an emotional range that they emerge drained and enlivened at the same time. On Saturday night, after the final chord of the final section, the Libera Me, there was silence. It was not the silence of rejection. It was the silence which comes when the audience does not want to let a performance go, when it cannot believe there is not more. That silence is the greatest compliment an audience can pay, and those of you who decided not to come for reasons like rain or rugby – both pretty wet – missed a remarkably powerful rendering of Verdi’s iconic work.

The Requiem is not easy. The logistics of filling a stage with not one but two choirs, an orchestra of 40 with four of the eight trumpets located on a separate mezzanine, tympany and bass drum, four solists, and a conductor like Rita Paczian, are mind-blowing. The skills required to keep the assemblage together, beat by beat, when positive tsunamis of sound must be turned in a twinkling into moments of hushed harmony, and ensure that neither the soloists nor the choirs are overwhelmed by the orchestra, are rarely found in full. Paczian has those skills. She has the ability to communicate her needs to singers and instrumentalists, and her musicians clearly understand the power of discipline and practice. Technical moments like a cut-off at the end of a phrase, or an opening in which the attack is perfectly synchronous, are as important as clarity of diction and accuracy of pitch. Even more importantly, these musicians displayed a confidence and authority which produced a timbre and tone utterly suited to Verdi’s dramatics. That, my dear reader, was not a lesson in choral technique. It was the twin choirs and the orchestra performing on the night.

The orchestra developed a remarkably sensitive understanding of its relationship with the singers. Its dynamic range was enormous, and its skill in maintaining a balance between voice and instruments produced a unique soundscape. The instrumentalists also responded receptively to the four soloists who brought their own creative sensibility, often operatic, but always beautiful, to Verdi’s music. On Saturday night, however, the star was the choir. Beginning with a terrifying and utterly dramatic blast of power in the initial Dies Irae, which managed to be clearly articulated despite the decibellular explosions, there were also times they produced a genuine pianissimo beauty, with a wonderful intensity and richness of tone that was almost sotto voce. They wove an acoustic tapestry in the fugues, especially in the Sanctus, where the choir was in double chorus. The Rex Tremendae was full of power and passion, and after nearly 90 minutes of accurate and emotion filled song, the second Dies Irae, where there is judgment and anger and Heaven and Earth quake, set about redefining the Doctrine of Affections, and did. The normal requiem may deal with death, but this Verdi is full of life.

Something Glorious

What: Something Glorious
Who: Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Sunday July 10th, 2016
Where: St Peter’s Cathedral
Works by: Schubert and Mozart
Conductor: Timothy Carpenter
Soloists: Eliza Boom, soprano; Kayla Collingwood, mezzo;  Filipe Manu, tenor;
Jarvis Dams, baritone
Reviewer:  Sam Edwards

Sunday night was unusual, but an object lesson for those who take concert attendance somewhat casually. The concert was scheduled to begin at 5pm. At 4.30, there were two queues at the door, a short one for ticket holders and a much longer one for door sales hopefuls.

By intended start time, people were still buying tickets at the door, and having to be seated across the side aisles of St Peter’s Cathedral because the central block was already full. On the sides, the sight lines are less forgiving but the sound is fine, but some people have strong opinions about where they sit. Had they bought tickets or come earlier, there would not be a problem.

Here was a live concert starting at 5pm, serious classical music, no amplification, full choir of 40 voices, four soloists, and 12-piece ensemble orchestra without guitar or drums in sight, By ten past five, as a boy racer happily gunned his car away from the cathedral precincts, Maestro Timothy Carpenter was finally able to raise his baton.

The first notes of Schubert’s much-sung Mass No.2 in G filled the cathedral and the hearts of the audience. The vocal dynamics were perfectly matched to the rewarding but intense acoustic of the cathedral, the tuning perfect, the balance a licence to offer up a mental “wow!”

The choir was a polished complement to the opening soloist, soprano Eliza Boom, whose voice brought a true sense of the mood of the Kyrie.  At the same time the choir, particularly the tenor and bass sections, conveyed the sense of the music and the text with waves of sound punctuated with shots dramatic subito piano.

Clearly the choir was in the best form it had been for two years or more, and under the passionate and informed baton of Mr Carpenter,  beginning to produce a new timbre. The Gloria began with a snappy forte entry, which surprised a small person so much his hands went to cover his ears, but the audience was all smiles, especially through a pitch perfect passage of fortissimo semitones and the Dams and Bloom duet.

Perhaps there were moments when the Benedictus stretched the choir somewhat, and  picky person commented on a couple of less than perfectly synchronous entries, but the rest of us were completely absorbed.

Who could resist the series of Mozart arias which provided a brief interlude between the Schibert and the Mozart Vesperae Solennes de Confessore? Two love songs, one from the dolce mezzo of Kayla Collingwood, and one from the seamlessly powerful voice of Filipe Manu, together with Boom and Dams, underlined the extraordinary vocal quality which exists in such singers New Zealand.

The Solemn Vespers followed the same memorable path, with the Laudate Dominumsung so gently, so movingly, as Boom, in the most beautiful sequence again tempted one into a string of superlatives while the choir gave it the final exquisite polish. Oh how the mighty have been reborn. Their performance of Verdi’s Requiem on October 8 with Bach Musica should be memorable.


Handel’s Messiah

What: Handel’s Messiah
Who: Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Sunday December 13th, 2015
Where: Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre, Rotorua
Conductor: Peter Walls
Reviewer:  Hanno Fairburn

This admirable performance showed resoundingly why Handel’s great oratorio has been ever-popular for over 250 years.

The Rotorua Districrt Choir, Hamilton Civic Choir, fine soloists and Opus Orchestra emphasized in Handel’s broad and dignified music the qualities of the story of Christ which are in turn touching, majestic and exciting.

Conductor Peter Walls  managed these forces splendidly, deftly controlling the ebb and flow of the work’s drama to give it freshness and integrity.

Both choirs had been thoroughly prepared separately and blended impressively for an agile and incisive performance.   They had sound support from the resilient Opus Orchestra, with a solid underpinning by cellos, basses and harpsichord.

A feeling prevailed that there was a full understanding between conductor, singers and orchestra, with each inspiring the others.

All four soloists were commendable, vitally effective in their own roles and always convincing. Soprano Madison Nonoa had great appeal for her bell-like tones and satiny smoothness, while Kate Spence’s pliant alto voice over a wide range was marked by total sincerity. Filipe Manu ‘s strong tenor voice and measured words lent a heartfelt nature to all he sang, and the stirring resonance of  bass Chalium Poppy gave his arias authority and impact.


Bach’s Christmas Oratorio

Who: Hamilton Civic Choir: Bach Christmas Oratorio
When: Saturday 6th December, 2014
Where: St Peter’s Cathedral, Hamilton
Conductor: Rachael Griffiths-Hughes
Soloists: Soprano Eliza Boom, Mezzo-Soprano Elisha Fai Hulton,
Tenor Richard Taylor, Bass Jonathan Eyers.
Reviewer: Andrew Buchanan-Smart

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is one of those works, along with the St Matthew and the St John Passions, the B Minor Mass and Handel’s Messiah which are the baroque edifices of choral music, the towering masterpieces of the repertoire that are aspirational bench marks for choirs. Simply stated they can be a choral graveyard where many have fallen.

The Hamilton Civic Choir under the musical direction of Rachel Griffiths-Hughes climbed this edifice and with a performance of parts 3-6 of the Oratorio, sung in German with the choir in mixed mode (where the voice types are not grouped together) made a glorious and beautiful sound.  They changed vocal colour in both chorus and chorale mode. This was especially noticeable in the chorale I stand beside the manger, where the delicate hues pervaded in contrast to the triumphant chorus Lord, when proud enemies rage.

The four soloists Eliza Boom, Elisha Fai Hulton, Richard Taylor and Jonathan Eyers were all young and their voices well matched, with each bringing a youthful patina to their performance. The challenging recitatives were in the main excellent with the orchestral ensemble and continuo elements finely balanced. In the arias, the oboe and violin obligato passages were a beautifully played. The trumpets added to the all-round excellent performance with their virtuosity which added to the grandeur of this masterpiece.

On a sad note (for the choir) this was Griffiths-Hughes final performance with the Hamilton Civic Choir as the musical director. She took over the choir in 2000 and in that time the quality and versatility of the Choir has greatly improved. The choir has benefited from her being at the helm for an extensive period. It was a magnificent performance of a great work with which to finish the journey. The standing ovation from jubilant audience in a packed cathedral was a fitting farewell.

Reflections of War

Who: Hamilton Civic Choir – Reflections of War
When: Saturday 23 August, 2014
Where: St Peter’s Cathedral, Hamilton
Conductor: Rachael Griffiths-Hughes, Organist – Myles Hartley,
Soloists: Beverley Pullon, Flautist Kathryn Orbell, Cellist Martin Griffiths.
Accompanist: Francis Cowan
Reviewed by: Andrew Buchanan-Smart

Programming is such a vital element in the success of a concert and this programme was excellent, capturing the intent of the title Reflections of War, the other part of the success of a concert is always in its execution, this was also excellent.  The programme cleverly presented differing aspects of war; the dramatic, the heroic, the poignant and the sad. Many had a tear in their eye as personal reflections were and stirred and emotions surfaced.

Haydn’s Kyrie and Agnus Dei from Mass in Time of War, (Napoleonic) conveyed a certain brightness and joyfulness. From Kodaly’s MissaBrevis, (WW2) the Gloria was exciting while the Sanctus conveyed floating ethereal quality.

Parry’s Songs of Farewell were beautifully sung which captured a nostalgic note and Myles Hartley with an organ arrangement of Elgar’s Nimrod variation painted more solemn hues while The Dam Busters march provided the element of pomp (WW2). The choir In Flanders Fields gave an intensely moving and reflective performance (WW1). Also from the same period were Trois Chansons by Ravel, where Beverley Pullon and the choir enchanted. The Benedictus from Jenkins’ The Armed Man: Mass for Peace pervaded a gentle plaintive mood, (Korsovo). The Kiwi component was provided with V Griffiths Peace and War and J Ritchie’s evocative The Snow Goose with Kathryn Orbell and Francis Cowan. The final work was sung by the men alone. E Daley’s In Remembrance gave an aura and personal significance to the concert for many.

In this tremendously varied programme the choir were consistently able to change colour and blend according to the work, their vocal agility acted like a mirror which reflected the composition’s intent and integrity. Only the best choirs can do this

New World: Music from the Americas

Who: Hamilton Civic Choir: New Worlds – Music of the Americas
When: Saturday 24 May, 2014
Where: Gallagher Academy Performing Arts
Conductor – Rachael Griffiths-Hughes, Accompanist – Francis Cowan
Soloist: Andrew Leathwick – Piano.
Reviewed by Andrew Buchanan-Smart

A very challenging programme where the choir triumphed. The title Music of the Americas sounded quite innocuous; reality was different, with a mix of ancient and modern, sacred and secular; the demands on the singers requiring changes in both style and language are not easy to achieve while maintaining quality. The choir brought this gallimaufry together with sensitivity and beauty.

The Peruvian 17th century chant Hanacpachap cussicuinin (Heaven’s Joy) was indeed joyful. The blend and balance of the choir highlighted the clear harmonic lines of this lovely work. Padilla’s Mass Ego flos campi for double choir in Latin in the style of a Plain Chant, with exotic complex rhythms that added to the piquancy of the aural textures and an infusion of polyphony was a lovely reminder of the flowering of a great choral tradition. The sacred theme was progressed with Barber’s stunningly beautiful Angus Dei a setting of his Adagio for Strings, where the choir excelled themselves and Thompson’s Alleluia, a quiet and introspective piece in seven parts, which proved demanding for maintaining pitch.

The secular was carefully crafted into sections that included a lovely arrangement and performance of Shenandoah, Three Spirituals by Copland; all well-articulated and colourful. Morten Lauridsen’s Les Chansons des Roses captured these Rilke poems in exquisite detail; each poem had a unique fragrance.

Andrew Leathwick’s performance of Beethoven’s Sonata Op28, 1 showed maturity which brought out the pastoral nature the work. The Messiaen demonstrated Leathwick in virtuoso mode.

The choir effectively changed gear and showed another side of their personality to advantage with Somewhere over the Rainbow, A Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square and Begin the Beguine. From Dvorak’s New World, Goin’ home was a perfect conclusion to a lovely concert with lots of gems beautifully sung.

Folk Songs from Britain and Ireland

Who: Hamilton Civic Choir: Sumer is Icumen In
When: Saturday 16 November, 2014
Where: Gallagher Academy Performing Arts
Soloists: Soprano Madison Nonoa, Flute Kathryn Orbell
Conductor: Rachael Griffiths-Hughes
Accompanist: Francis Cowan
Reviewer: Andrew Buchanan-Smart

A programme of mainly a cappella singing of traditional folk songs from the British Isles, but not in their original settings, which added an element the new juxtaposed with tradition, making for some especially charming moments. It was pleasing to see and hear new voices in the choir bringing a sense of rejuvenation with a slightly different tonal colour palette. In some instances the new colours could be easily isolated lacking homogeneity.

The opening bracket was settings by Vaughan Williams of some lovely Five English Folk Songs, with The Lover’s Ghost having a forthright exuberance about it, while the polyphonic lines and textures were being clearly defined in the other songs.

James McMillan’s The Gallant Weaver with text by Burns performed by 9 voices incorporated the Scottish ‘snap’ and the ‘drone’ of the pipes to great effect.  Janet Jennings 2012 settings of three songs from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night the set entitled, What you will included O mistress mine and Come Away, Death showed that these perennial texts can be reset and be just as charming. A traditional Welsh air The Ash Grove, the Scottish Loch Lomond were cleverly arranged with dynamic detail well judged. The medieval English round Sumer is Icumen In singing about the joys of spring was a timely reminder.

Stanford’s arrangements of texts by T Moore of Six Irish Folk Songs were more uplifting, especially The Sword of Erin. Soprano Nonoa Madison, with a beautiful voice with Flautist Kathryn Orbell gave captivating, well balanced and finely articulated performances of John Corigliano‘s Three Irish Folk Songs (1988) with text by W B Yeats which included The Foggy Dew.  Holst’s arrangement of the Cornish I love my love and from Norfolk The Turtle Dove, rounded off a concert that captured the sentiments of the Folk Song.


Haydn’s Creation

What: Haydn’s Creation
Who: Opus Orchestra and Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Saturday 27th July, 2013
Where: Founders Theatre
Conductor: Peter Walls
Soloists: Soprano Jayne Tankersley, tenor Cameron Barclay, baritone Kieran Rayner
Reviewer: Russell Armitage

I was apprehensive about reviewing this concert, as over the last four years living in Europe I saw 3 fine performances of this mighty work – one in Esterhazy Palace where Haydn spent so many years.  How would this performance in Hamilton compare?   But with the enterprise in the very musical hands of the dual-monarchy of Peter Walls and Rachel Griffiths-Hughes things augured well.  And so it proved to be on the night.  Nothing to disappoint, and so much to enjoy.

Right from the opening depiction of Chaos the shifting, weaving  C minor soundscape drew us in – pulsating, swelling and mysterious.  It was spellbinding, lump in the throat stuff. Peter Walls and Opus Orchestra had created the magic which continued for the rest of the performance. All three soloists made fine contributions:  Kieran Rayner a warm baritone, with good diction and animation, if a little under-developed in some bass notes, Cameron Barclay a lovely open tenor sound with good projection and Jayne Tankersley giving us a beautiful, clear and pure soprano that was almost perfect for Haydn’s music.

The Hamilton Civic Choir, showing again the benefit of working with Rachel Griffiths-Hughes, sang with musicality ensuring the subtleties and individual parts in the choral writing came through. If anything I would have liked a bit more volume from the choir but the Founders Theatre makes this difficult.

Opus Orchestra played splendidly and delivered every joy, wonder and delight in this marvellous score. Solo passages were all very accomplished but special mention must go to Joy Liu on first oboe, who quite captivated with her playing in the Adam and Eve prayer duet.

I went home once again transported by this sublime work.

A Musical Showcase

Who: Hamilton Civic Choir: A Musical Showcase with our Associate Artists
When: Saturday 23 March 2013
Where: Gallagher Academy Performing Arts
Conductor: Rachael Griffiths-Hughes
Accompanist: Francis Cowan
Reviewer: Andrew Buchanan-Smart

The Hamilton Civic Choir has held an annual competition since 2006, inviting young Waikato musicians to compete for the Hamilton Civic Choir Associate Artist Award.  It must be with some sense of celebration and pride that all the winners of the Civic Choirs Associate Artist programme have gone on to achieve in their respective areas of music.

The Choir offered a selection of works to be included on their forthcoming CD. Starting with a beautiful account of David Childs The Moon is distant from the Sea.  Matariki by Janet Jennings was finely balanced and David Hamilton’s Me he korokoro tui was rich in both polyphonic and homophonic writing with the recorded sound of the tui being especially effective. Holst’s To the unknown god was powerful and Nachtwache 1 and 2 by Brahms were colourful and assertive. In Lauridsen’s charming Sure on this shining night the choir achieved a beautiful bloom and portrayed the contemplative nature of the work.

The associate artists included pianist Grace Francis who performed Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de lin and L’isle joyeuse with a romantic rather than impressionistic flavour. Grace was joined by her sister Olivia on violin in a beautiful rather than a spiccato rendition of Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. Mezzo-Soprano June Dams delighted in Mozart’s Ah! Chi mi dice mai from Don Giovanni and in Puccini’s Vissi D’arte from Tosca. Yotam Levy played Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G major; the arpeggiated chords were well articulated.  Baritone Jarvis Dams gave powerful performances of Votre Toast from Carmen by Bizet and Eri tu che macchiavi from Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera.  Pianist Andrew Leathwick impressed with one of his own compositions States, and the Grave, Doppio movimento from Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35. The value and benefit of these awards and the quality of the choir was evident for all to hear.


French Gems for Bastille Day

Who: Hamilton Civic Choir: Cafe Chantant
When: 14 July, 2012
Where: Southwell School Auditorium
Conductor: Rachael Griffiths-Hughes
Accompanist: Francis Cowan
Reviewer: Andrew Buchanan-Smart

Bastille Day celebrations are held on July 14 in French Communities all over the world, so it was appropriate that the Hamilton Civic Choir’s concert celebrated the occasion with music and food a la Francaise.

The audience, in a cafe-style setting, continued the theme by wearing tricolour scarves, fleur-de-lis and berets.

The Marseillaise set the scene and atmosphere for a collection of pieces for choir, sextets, octets and individual items. In the opening bracket the choir gave a beautiful performance, with exquisite blend and balance, of Saint-Saens’ Calme des Nuits. Charpentier’s De Profundi and the popular Cantique de Jean Racine by Faure enriched the atmosphere.

Four songs by Morten Lauridsen from Les Chansons des Roses (1993)- En Une Seule Fleur; Contre Qui, Rose; La Rose Complete and Dirait-on– were little gems.

Desprez’s El Grillo, Janequin’s Bonjour mon Coeur and Ce Moys de May were sung by octets or sextets, adding to the intimate event.
Trois Chansons, settings of romantic poetry by Debussy, had a colourful narrative which brought these gems to life.

Larissa Overington-Knight provided the operatic element, with Offenbach’s Elle a Fui, la Tourterelle, and Kathryn Orbell performed Faure’s Fantasie for Flute. Little pieces by Passereau and added some French spice to the fare.

Carol Way on piano accordion interspersed the programme with French favourites, including La Vie en Rose, which maintained the ambience, as did the finale of Hymme a l’amour and Chanson d’amour.

Accompanist Francis Cowan on the piano was more than competent throughout and Rachael Griffiths-Hughes provided excellent commentary as the evening progressed.
During the entertainment, a selection of French cuisine, consisting of croissants, vol-au-vents, eclairs and truffles, delighted the taste buds as much as the music pleased the ear.


Matariki Concert & Hamilton Civic Choir, St Paul’s Collegiate
Choir, Raakaumangamanga

When: Saturday 25th June, 2011
Where: St Paul’s Collegiate Chapel, Hamilton
Conductor: Rachael Griffiths-Hughes
Pianist/Organist: Francis Cowan
Reviewer: R Max Stewart

The spirit of Matariki was certainly well ignited through the joy and polished singing of Raakaumangamanga from Huntly, opening this concert with three appropriate waiata relating to this season in the Maori calendar. It was a delight to hear, was well presented, and concluded with a spirited haka.

David Hamilton’s ability as a highly skilled composer of New Zealand choral music, was exemplified next as the Hamilton Civic Choir presented his composition Matariki. From an extremely hushed opening, the choir demonstrated its ability to maintain a controlled, fluent melodic line and a confident well balanced sound.

As a contrast Holst’s ‘Hymn to the unknown God’ inserted an Eastern flavour to the programme and demonstrated excellent rapport between the piano and choir.

Combining with the Hamilton Civic Choir, St Paul’s Collegiate Choir then performed the first of two New Zealand premier performances singing ‘Psalm 148’ by the Waikato composer Phillippa Ulenberg. While being an excellent composition in the more traditional choral form, a slight delay between organ and choir was apparent from time to time, due to the distance of the organ from the choir.

A slightly diminished St Paul’s Collegiate Choir then performed ‘The heavens are telling’ from ‘Creation’ by Haydn. The performance was extremely tidy and musical with the male soloist from within the choir excelling in presentation and diction.

Three shorter pieces followed ‘I thank you God’ by Whitacre, was sung by a small group and did not seem achieve the heights of the other pieces as tonality and pitching appeared to waver at times. ‘Waikato Song’ by Edwin Carr exhibited excellent dynamic contrasts as a portrait of the river was unveiled in all its grandeur.

David Hamilton’s second piece provided one of the many highlights of the evening. ‘Me he korokoro tui’ (The call of the tui) allowed the choir to present a fully rounded sound, accompanied by a delightful organ score. Here, not only could the choir demonstrate their skill and love of well written music, but provided the audience with an exciting soundscape of New Zealand native birds complete with an audio sound track of appropriate bird calls.

The second half contained eight songs performed by the Civic Choir. These were all enjoyable and were sung with clear harmonic lines and effective dynamic effect.

Two of these pieces from the ladies of the choir created an interesting contrast to the full choir sound, though there were some moments where pitching in the higher register was suspect.

‘Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villian’ by Debussy gave a refreshing change of tempo, which added to its unique attraction.

The final item of the night was a delightful performance of the second New Zealand premier, this time singing Janet Jennings’ composition ‘Matariki’. An effectively haunting opening and the intricate linking of English and Maori through the music gave this piece a special character which held the audience’s attention, while the accompaniment added a superb finishing touch.

Hamilton Civic Choir is a fine group of singers who lift interesting and challenging music to a high level of accomplishment. Tonight was certainly no exception and conductor Rachael Griffith-Hughes and accompanist Francis Cowan are to be congratulated upon their efforts.


Music for Easter Stabat Mater

Who: Hamilton Civic Choir
: Saturday 27th March, 2010
Where: St Peter’s Cathedral
Works by: Palestrina and Rossini
Soloists: Soprano Glenese Blake, Mezzo-soprano Mary Newman-Pound, Tenor Pene Pati, Baritone Ian Campbell
Conductor: Rachael Griffiths-Hughes
Organist: Anne Clever-Holm
Pianist: Francis Cowan
Reviewer: Andrew Buchanan-Smart

The juxtaposition of the musical settings of this Easter text illuminated the suffering of Mary during Christ’s crucifixion. St Peter’s Cathedral was the ideal venue and acoustic for a performance of Palestrina’s Stabat mater, where its rich textures allowed the choir to shine with acapella polyphonic singing style. The flowing lines were finely balanced, beautifully articulated, both full of pathos and at times imbued with rich layering of harmonies which provided an aural sensual feast.

Rossini’s Stabat mater was more dramatic and a mixture of polyphony and homophony. The choir captured the operatic element very well, especially in their dynamic details. The soloists were especially well matched; Pene Pati in the famous Cujus animam showed both the beauty of his voice and power at his disposal.  In the duet Quis esthomo, Glenese Blake and Mary Newman-Pound blended exquisitely. Ian Campbell in the Pro peccatis, provided the darker lustrous hues.  In the Sancta Mater the quartet’s dramatic personae was highlighted.Newman-Pound’s Fac ut portem had warmth and Glenese Blake’s Inflamatus had the quality, and a beautiful bloom, to project above the choir. The choir, in all the major choruses, Quando corpus morietur and In sempiterna saecula, Amen were homogenous.

Rachael Griffiths-Hughes highlighted the styles and riches within each work


Handel’s Messiah

Who: Hamilton Civic Choir and Opus Orchestra
When: Saturday 12th December, 2009
Where: Founders Theatre
Soloists: Anna Leese soprano, Kate Spence mezzo-soprano, Patrick Power tenor, Kieran Rayner baritone
Conductor: Peter Walls
Reviewer: Andrew Buchanan-Smart

From the opening orchestral Sinfonia, for a near full Founders Theatre, one could hear that the performance would be special; it was. This Messiah, without cuts, captured the dramatic narrative with energy as well as the reflective moments.  The choir were very clear with sonorities of lightness for the polyphonic, and robust fervour for the homophonic, choruses.  They were inspired, from the opening ‘And the glory of the Lord’, to the exuberant ‘Hallelujah’ chorus and the majesty of the final ‘Worthy is the Lamb’.

Opus matched the moods of the texts with rich and warm timbres and were an excellent combination with the choir.  The recitative and continuo were strong throughout.  The ‘The trumpet shall sound’ was beautifully played in a florid and lyrical style which complimented Kieran Rayner’s lighter baritone hues which were also shown well in ‘For behold, darkness shall cover the earth’.

Anna Leese, with a beautifully clear voice, seemed to change between the oratorio and operatic styles but her ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ was divine.

Kate Spence’s rich dark velvety palette was exquisite throughout; nowhere more so than in ‘He was despised and rejected’.

Patrick Power provided a clear and strong opening with ‘Comfort ye’ and later, in Thou shalt break them, was lyrical with darker hues.

This would be one of the finest Messiah performances I’ve had the pleasure to attend; magnificent; congratulations to all involved.

Shakespeare As You Like It!!

Who: Gallagher Group Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Saturday 5th September, 2009
Where: WEL Academy of Performing Arts
Who: Malcolm McNeill, vocalist with Barry Brinson, pianist and arranger; James Sherlock, guitarist; Paul Dyne, bassist, Wayne Trow, Flautist, Grant Mason, Flugelhorn and actors, Alec Forbes and Liz Buick
Musical Director: Rachael Griffiths-Hughes
Reviewer: Andrew Buchanan-Smart

An enjoyable departure from the staple diet of offerings was well received. Forbes’ opening Caliban captured the lyrical and undulating rhythmical patterns that became a feature of the evening.  Malcolm McNeill, in the spirit of the troubadour drew one into his silky vocalise, with Oh Mistress MineCome Away DeathThe Winter of my Discontent and Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day? 

The Choir’s selection of songs and sonnets included many of the more well known; It was a lover and his lass, set by both Shearing and Rutter. Who is Sylvia?, was an especially fine rendition.  There was the odd occasion when the choir in a cappella mode had pitch discrepancies, but generally the colours and balance worked well.

The band of Brinson, Sherlock and Dyne were in fine form; both in the ensemble as well as the solo breaks, especially so was Sherlock, with some very stylish solo backing.

An individual solo from Mason and the settings of Arne arranged Brinson allowed Trow to feature prominently as he did in Under the Greenwood Tree,and Where the Bee sucks.  Rachael Griffiths-Hughes and the Choir should be really pleased with their ‘concord of sweet sounds’.

St Paul Oratorio – Felix Mendelssohn

Who: Gallagher Group Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Saturday 13th June, 2009
Where: Cathedral Church of St Peters, Hamilton
Musical Director: Rachael Griffiths-Hughes
Soloists: Julia Booth, Derek Hill, Charles Sorensson, David Griffiths
Organist: John Wells
Reviewer: R. Max Stewart

To a large and very receptive audience, Hamilton Civic Choir gave a most enjoyable presentation of this little known oratorio on Saturday evening.

Under the guidance of Musical Director Rachael Griffiths-Hughes the 64 voice choir, four soloists and organist warmed to this melodic and expressive work with obvious enjoyment and improving clarity of diction as the evening progressed.

Each chorus was presented with attention to detail and excellent use of the full range of excitement and drama, showing the fine tonal quality which is now a hallmark of this well balanced choir.

It was in the singing of the chorales, however, that the quality of the choir shone, drawing fully on dynamics and harmonies which are so much a part of Mendelssohn’s music.

Soprano Julia Booth delighted with a clear melodic line and fine sense of phrasing. ‘I will sing of thy great mercies’ was particularly impressive.
Derek Hill was outstanding in ‘Be thou faithful unto death’, while Charles Sorensson, a choir member, sang with clarity, combining admirably with David Griffiths in two well-balanced duets.
David Griffiths, as St Paul, once again provided the richness of tone and expression required for this major part. His experience and skill at interpreting a role of this type was secure and consummately presented.

The whole performance was sustained with great sensitivity by organist John Wells. The accompaniment was both incisive and supportive throughout, maintaining an excellent balance between choir and soloists. His artistry was a feature of the evening.

Congratulations to all involved in this excellent concert.

Songs of Praise

Who: Gallagher Group Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Saturday 28th March, 2009
Where: St Peter’s Cathedral
Works by: Haydn, Bach, Gabrieli and Katie Johnson
Soloists: Sopranos, Amber Evemy and Ondine Godtschalk; Mezzo-soprano June Dams; Tenor, Michael Petrus and Baritone Jarvis Dams
Conductor: Rachael Griffiths-Hughes; Organist: Francis Cowan
Reviewed by Andrew Buchanan-Smart

What a delight to hear some of Hamilton’s finest young voices and composer Katie Johnson being featured by the choir; one could argue that it was a concert in ‘Praise of Youth’, mostly from the University of Waikato.

Bach’s Baroque Magnificat 1723 with orchestral accompaniment was finely honed.  The soloists, Amber Evemy, Ondine Godtschalk, June Dams, Michael Petrus and Jarvis Dams all demonstrated a sense of style, articulation and colour but there was a little concern over Evemy’s occasional intonation lapses.  Vocal projection of the soloists above the ensemble to the back of the auditorium is required; hopefully this will come with experience.

Gabrielli’s late-Renaissance Jubilate Deo omnis terra, dated 1597 is a sample of some of the richest polyphonic writing.  The flowing counterpoint’s woven textures were beautifully realised in the Cathedral’s acoustic.

Hamiltonian Katie Johnson’s world premiere of Gloria, showed that the tradition of composing a cappella religious choral works is alive and well.  The combination of traditional and modern vocal written styles combined well to arrive at a very florid Amen.

Haydn’s Te Deum circa 1799-1800, accompanied by Francis Cowan was dramatic and dynamic; lovely choral singing.  Rachael Griffiths-Hughes with the choir revealed each works own riches and musical style; the integration of which into one concert provided a clear lineage and continuum for Songs of Praise.


Music For Kings

Who: Gallagher Group Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Saturday 6th September, 2008
Where: WEL Academy of Performing Arts
Conductor: Rachael Griffiths-Hughes
Soprano Soloist: Evelyne Waters
Organists: Leonard Cave and Francis Cowan
Reviewer: Andrew Buchanan-Smart

‘Music for Kings’ was a rich gallimaufry of music both composed for royal occasions and used by royalty, which traversed many different vocal styles and centuries. This was an essentially English programme, whilst acknowledging Handel’s German origins and the works by Couperin.

The cyclical nature of the evening with the weight of Handel for the opening organ processionals of Water Music and Royal Fireworks followed by The King Shall Rejoice and the penultimate Zadok the Priest, heard the choir well within their comfort zone.  The choir in Purcell’s I was glad and Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary produced some beautifully blended textures in the contrapuntal style, with an added degree of solemnity in the latter.

Soloist Evelyne Waters, with a beautiful bloom to her voice delighted with Bax’s Shieling song and Handel’s Let the bright seraphim and V’adoro, pupille, from Julius Caesar.

Ireland’s These Hills and Bliss’s Aubade for Coronation morning heard the choir in less antiphonal mode and with a more secure timbre to their vocal lines. Tavener’s Song for Athene, with a bass drone, was most effective and worked well within the acoustic.

Spem in alium by Tallis, possibly the jewel at the centre of this regal offering, is undoubtedly the most complex and challenging work for almost any choir, where the 40 individual parts require perfect delineation and balance. A fine effort, worthy of performance but the Academy acoustic and setting appeared incongruous, whilst the cathedral acoustic may have ameliorated some inconsistencies. Rachael Griffiths-Hughes, organists and the Choir should be really pleased with this performance.

Pilgrimage to Santiago
Who: Gallagher Group Hamilton Civic Choir
When: Saturday 28th June, 2008
Where: St Peter’s Cathedral
Conductor: Rachael Griffiths-Hughes
Recorder Ensemble: Jessica Shaw
Reviewer: Andrew Buchanan-Smart

Wow! An aural and visual feast had a very enthusiastic response from a packed cathedral, which was just reward for a performance full of beautiful sounds and unexpected riches.

This concert comprised of four elements; pictorial images of the pilgrims’ route along the Camino de Santiago, an explanatory narrative and readings from Codex Calixtinus, read by Sam Edwards, a recorder quintet lead by Jessica Shaw gave the secular tones whilst the sacred was provided by the Choir and Rachael Griffiths-Hughes who opened as solo cantor.

The choir and small ensembles were a cappella, this allowed for a non-tempered openness that was beautifully refreshing. Four soprano cantors placed in the corners of the cathedral sang discant organum that resonated from the vault to loft with exquisite clarity. All small vocal ensembles acquitted themselves well; of note was a trio which produced a sumptuous blend and balance of voices. The choir throughout produced a sound of refined purity with open textures which enabled the rich voicings and harmonies to be clearly articulated and befitted some of the music of Victoria, Morales, Lobo and others of the period. The recorder ensemble with equal precision and balance of timbres provided interludes of Medieval dances, Renaissance ballet and an Elizabethan collection which enhanced the Camino.

Each element brought its own richness, references and allusions, the integration of which allowed the audience their own personal pilgrimage.