UCT singers provide choral music treat

2011-10-19 13:50
The SA College of Music’s chamber choir, who go by the name of the UCT Singers, performed an eclectic selection of pieces at the Baxter theatre earlier this month which included several by local South African composers.  The UCT Singers are relative newcomers (founded in 2009) and are noteworthy because they are not academically trained musicians. Their repertoire is also quite adventurous.

Members of the SACS marimba band set the evening's tone before giving way to the 16-strong choir who were joined onstage by energetic choir mistress, Jo-Mari Thorne Burgess, whose shining gold stilettos and lacy red dress added a note of playful elegance to proceedings. The first half of the programme alternated between modern and traditional pieces by South African and American composers. Stephen Paulus' Pilgrim’s Hymn was an astute choice for the opening item and established a needed sense of gravitas to the modest ensemble. It was also refreshing to hear a modern classic in performance. Soprano Ines Tonkin delighted here and throughout the evening with her fine control and well-maintained trills. An element of levity was introduced in the form of Peter Klatzow's Prayers and Dances of Praise from Africa before returning to the sublime and meditative Lux Aurumque by Eric Whitacre.

'Genuinely moving'

One of the highlights of the evening was undoubtedly Hendrik Hofmeyr's seldom-heard Spokewals which was remarkable for its eerie, howling start as choristers imitated a fierce wind. Their pneumatic, whispering dirge created an atmospheric backdrop to the haunting lyric which accompanied the performance. A traditional Zulu piece, Mavolovolo, followed and a chorister took time out to explain the significance of the song. Citing its origin in the upheavals of Kwamashu near Durban in the late '80s ('mavolovolo' means 'revolver'), I was intrigued to learn of its current popularity as a wedding song. Two traditional American spirituals followed on and showcased the fine voice of Spha Mdlalose, whose expressiveness injected energy into a challenging choice. Despite this effort, I was left feeling that the choir did not quite carry off the performance with sufficient verve. Peter Louis Van Dijk's Horizons closed the first half with a playful vocal performance.

After interval the performance resumed with a duo of lively choral pieces in the form of Holst's Partsongs, Op. 12 and Thomas Rajna’s Hebrew Choruses. The UCT Singers were then joined onstage by the young choristers of Grove Primary who performed a meritorious performance of Benjamin Britten’s Old Abram Brown. The choice of a funereal dirge seemed brave but in the end it worked wonderfully. The youngsters sang with great focus and expression which was genuinely moving. They also sang an unannounced rendition of What a Wonderful World but seemed to drift in focus. Ernst Toch’s amusing Geographical Fugue was a return to the quirky side of the evening’s performance. Its playful repetitions were a fitting send-off to the Grove Primary choir.

An offbeat version of J S Bach's Kom Susser Tod included a sax accompaniment and saw the choir disperse itself over the breadth of the stage. Their strong harmonies and crisp, clear high notes were refracted by the saxophone’s breathy tones to interesting effect but the instrument tended at times to overpower the small ensemble. The final programmed piece, Billy Joel's arrangement of B Chilcott's And so it goes, was for me the best performance of the evening. The choir delivered a slow, stirring vocal monologue which achieved a delicious resonance unmatched in their other performances. The well-deserved encore was Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t worry, be happy.

Read more on:    concerts  |  music

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