Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vox Camerata's 'A Ceremony of Carols' in Review

December is the time for Christmas themed concerts; Vox Camerata with guest conductor Reuben Lai got the ball rolling with a beautiful presentation of A Ceremony of Carols among other works.

The concert literally started off with a bang, as a singer banging on a hand-held drum led the choir members down the walkway, starting the show at close distance with the audience before filing in two rows onto the stage.

it was the beginning of two Spanish numbers, the first an anonymous folk song and the latter, the dance-like Riu Riu Chu by composer Mateo Flecha del Viejo, accompanied by choir members playing percussion instruments. Two tenor soloists alternated between the second song's verses.

After this rousing start, the programme settled down to a more sombre mood. As this is the first of two shows that day, nerves manifested itself in much of the show, resulting in some intonation problems. But the team was otherwise well prepared. The first half was sung entirely from memory, with close attention to dynamics.

Poulenc's Quatre motets pour noel (four Christmas motets), sung a cappella, contained a variety of styles ornamented with the composer's signature contemporary touch. It is part Gregorian chant, part full chorale, part Christmas carol. I'm not sure if it's the writing or performing, but some of the more Christmas Carol-ish parts, particularly in the last song/movement, felt rather dry without accompaniment or interweaving of voices that is used in most unaccompanied arrangements.

The Hymn to the Virgin is a really interesting piece, contrasting an English anthem-style chorale with Latin verses sung by two countertenors and a bass. Different styles, different keys, different languages, all of which the choir took in their stride. It was a show of virtuoso composition as well as virtuoso choral singing.

Then came the Ceremony of Carols; what a beautiful piece of music! Serene and joyful, sometimes dark but always full of hope, and juxtaposing Gregorian chant with the composer's contemporary interpretation of the British choral tradition. After the interval, the choir is fully warmed up by now and sang with full, joyous voices. SOTA harp student Bianca Beng strummed out an angelic atmosphere that beautifully complemented the well-blended choral singing. Mezzo Chua Liang-Wei and soprano Tessa, students from SOTA, gave commendable performances. More work can be done on clearer pronunciation and freer intonation, but their participation definitely raised the concert to a higher level. Tessa's voice in particular, light and clear, complimented the 'angelic' atmosphere. An encore of Silent Night concluded the concert.

Overall it was a worthy effort by a community ensemble. where technical flaws can be heard, they were made up for by the joy they they showed presenting this music. A great start to the Christmas concert season.

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