Seasoned song

21 December 2019

Review: Voyces, ‘The Three Wise Men’ ·
Christ Church Grammar School Chapel, December 20, 2019 ·
Review by Rosalind Appleby ·

There’s something extra special about hearing sacred music during the season for which it was written. Voyces ensemble structured their final concert for the year around seven 5th century chants known as the O Antiphons, texts historically recited during the last seven days of Advent.

But there was a twist.

The texts were re-imagined by a group of contemporary European composers, bringing a sharpened focus to the ancient tradition. It’s part of Voyces’ unique contribution to the West Australian music scene, with their commitment to commissioning and performing contemporary music which tells the stories of today.

I’d forgotten how immersive vocal music is, producing sound waves that reverberate right through the body. The perfect antidote to the pre-Christmas rush. Thirty-four young voices floated acapella through the Christ Church Grammar Chapel with a purity that was as refreshing as the Fremantle Doctor which was blowing white caps on the river below.

The Merton College Antiphons, as they are known, include arrangements by illustrious composers such as John Tavener, whose O Adonai was built over a luscious pedal note in the basses, and Ēriks Ešenvalds, whose O Emmanuel featured a delicate alto chant. The male singers impressed in Rihards Dubra’s O Radix, showcasing the breadth of the ensemble’s sound. O Oriens, by Cecilia McDowall was also favourite, with its Brittenesque close harmonies and elegant lyricism.

Carols were interspersed along the way which, while festive, did interrupt the contemplative mystery of the Antiphons. The carols would’ve worked better clustered before and after, enabling the Antiphons to flow without pause, and uninterrupted by long pauses to acknowledge applause.

The choir, conducted by Robert Braham, exploited the contrasts between the various carols: Roxanna Panufnik’s Cradle Song rocked gently between major and minor tonalities, Adrian Peacock’s Venite Gaudete had a bright energy and Ian Assersohn’s Make We Joy Now In This Fest skipped along with joyful humour. Perth composer Perry Joyce contributed two pleasant arrangements of Silent Night and Ding Dong Merrily On High, demonstrating his skill in writing for voice; the tubular bells (performed by Jackson Vickery) were a nice touch. Jonathan Bradley accompanied the choir on piano for several songs, although the sheer volume and density Voyces produced required little extra support.

In fact the dynamic range was a little too impressive in sections; a tendency to over-sing on the climaxes added a strained edge to the otherwise crisp and warm ensemble sound. Correcting the occasional pitch issues in exposed soprano lines would add the final polish to this brave and professional ensemble, who brought us such a spiritually inspiring program.

Pictured top: Voyces ensemble. Photo Nik Babic.

Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.

Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

Past Articles

Read Next

  • Kiki Saito and Matthew Lehmann in Nils Christe's Before Nightfall. Photo by Bradbury Photography copy Two West Australian ballet dancers on stage - a woman is perched on one pointe, her other leg extended upwards in a split. She arches back, supported by a male dancer. Hitting high notes at 70

    Hitting high notes at 70

    25 June 2022

    Traversing a range of human emotion, West Australian Ballet’s latest triple bill is an evening of beautifully performed contemporary dance, reports Kim Balfour.

    Reading time • 6 minutesDance
  • Cabaret festival. A singer wearing a fur hat is on stage with a pianist, guitarist and drummer. We can see the dress circle seats of the theatre in the background lit in a greenish light. Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    23 June 2022

    A cabaret veteran and opera performer bring very different interpretations of the greats of classical, jazz and pop in the second week of the Perth International Cabaret Festival, writes David Zampatti

    Reading time • 6 minutesCabaret
  • A semi circle of 8 singers, with one standing in the centre, facing an audience. They are in a large hall and there are cnadles, chairs and pot plants decorating the floor around them. Vanguards bring poetry to vocal music

    Vanguards bring poetry to vocal music

    20 June 2022

    Armchair poets become legends in their own lunchtimes in Vanguard Consort’s imaginative Saturday Night Poetry, writes Claire Coleman.

    Reading time • 5 minutesMusic

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio

Cleaver Street Studio