Reviews

30 Years Later: Waikato Museum Celebrations

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

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

What: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1: A Concert of Numbers
Who
: 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
Who:
Hamilton Civic Choir and Opus Chamber Orchestra
When:
Saturday 6 May, 2017
Where:
St Peter’s Cathedral
Conductor: 
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
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
When
: 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.