Saturday, September 6, 2014

Vox Camerata's 'Decadenze' (31 Aug) in Review

Vox Camerata presented a lengthy and demanding programme to celebrate their 10th Anniversary. It was a testament to their choral technique, endurance and love for music that they performed the entire 2 and a half hour set a capella with stamina leftover for two more encores.

This being their 10th Anniversary and debut at the Esplanade Concert Hall, I can understand their desire to include everything in one evening. Much props to the tireless members and their indefatigable leader, Shahril Salleh, for keeping standards consistently high throughout a wide ranging programme. About a dozen members took turns singing the evening's numerous solos including Brent Allcock, much missed from SLO productions. Emcee Wong Kai-Ho made the event all the more fun with his light-hearted if long-winded introductions to the pieces.

The first half consisted of works performed in previous concerts while the second half are first time presentations. Religious mass settings dominated a large part of the programme, with works by Palestrina, Mendelssohn, Grieg, Biebl and Poulenc in the first half and Britten and the world premiere of the conductor's own three-part Tryptica Mater in the second half. The first movement, Hidegardian Oratorio which is a tribute to the titular renaissance composer, started off as a typical contrapuntal mass setting but then evolved into a sort of minimalist chanting of themes, with the entire chorus walking in circles around the massive stage while individual members take turns coming up to stage front to recite biblical quotes, some of them rather misogynistic. The sound effect was quite mesmerising, as these moving disparate sounds played with the acoustics the hall with interesting effects. However, this part of the movement lasted a little too long that the novelty wore off before it was over; some judicious trimming will make it worth hearing again.

My general thoughts are that the team was well-drilled, keeping tight harmonies and pitching, with no obvious cracks throughout. Even the way they changed formations after each song seemed to be intricately choreographed, as they walked around in anticlockwise circles until everyone fell into place. But so many a capella religious settings in one evening is too much of a good thing. Dick Lee's Bunga Sayang (Flower of Love, arranged from his musical Kampong Amber) and a selection of Spanish songs provided a welcome respite. Ravel's choral piece Trios Beaux Oiseux du Paradis in the compaser's limpid impressionistic style was one of the most memorable pieces in the evening. The evening was also brightened up by percussionists John and Marcus Teo playing their cajuns (that wooden box that drummers sit and play on) in the Incan-themed Apamuy Shungo by Gerado Guevara and Jai Ho, the theme song from Slumdog Millionaire that closed the evening.

Overall, the choir has reason to be proud of this concert, not just for the occasion but for a job well done. Its not easy to pull off a 2 and a half hour concert consisting entirely of a capella programme in such a large hall; The team went for broke and emerged victorious. My congratulations to all!

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