The Vox Humana Chamber Choir closed off NOCCA’s 2018-19 season Sept. 28, 2019. (Photo submitted)

Victoria choir gives flawless Okanagan concert

Vox Humana concert held over from April makes impression

James Leonard

Special to The Morning Star

This concert was held over from the original date in April. The choir wasn’t able to leave Vancouver Island because of high winds at that time. They actually spent some terrifying hours on a ferry that was tossed about, and managed to return to port.

The concert began customarily with some local guest artists; this time Keanna Burgher and Charlotte Backman – both veterans from Melina Moore’s Valley Vocal Arts program.They warmed up the crowd nicely with God Bless The Child, Being Alive and Secondary Characters sung as a duet. Their confidence and experience shone through. They were ably accompanied by Alex MacArthur on the piano.

There was some confusion about which programme was being presented by the choir – the one in the insert or the one on the April concert sleeve. Conductor Brian Wismath cleared it up by announcing that the insert pieces were the evening’s programme – all pieces by Canadian composers of the 20th Century.

Throughout the difficult program – all sung a cappella (no accompaniment) – the choir showed their confidence and produced a flawless blend of tone, perfect tuning and tight ensemble. Kudos to Brian Wismath for his excellent rehearsal technique.

The first half of the program was the most enjoyable for the reviewer. Two pieces by Kathleen Allan – Stars and Thou My Soul May Set in Darkness – showed a mastery of compositional techniques including fugue (complicated round; first part called an exposition). Stars by Ashley Bontje had lovely pentatonic (five-note pattern) melodies woven together.

Certainly the most entertaining piece was by Chris Sivak – Alouette Meets Her Maker – in which the choir produces sounds associated with the decommissioned satellite of the 1970s. The imagination of the composer produces a sequel to the decommissioning after 10 years – with an unexpected reboot after 30 years. There is radio chatter, buzzing, blips and bleeps, all ending with a ‘Whoosh!’ which marked the final destruction of the circuits.

The first half of the program ended with seven parts from Estonian composer Urmas Sisask’s Gloria Patri sung in Latin. All movements were based on only five selected notes. Number one was the Gloria Patri beginning in the style of a church motet, and then using a quartet singing in unison, sounding medieval. The perfect blend of the choir was very evident through this section.

The Sanctus had a lively bouncing rhythm which was perfectly executed by the choir. This was carried out again in the Gloria. The last movement, the Agnus Dei sounded very sombre and penitential out of which grew some simple imitation.The ending had multiple repeats of the phrase Dona Nobis Pacem with long breaks in between. Kudos to the audience for not interrupting with premature applause. You could hear a pin drop!

The second half began with Kitchener-Waterloo composer Jeff Enns’ Psalm 23; it was in the style of a Tudor church anthem with modern harmony. Again perfect tuning and blend were displayed by the choir. Enn’s second piece was a lament about a little girl suffering the experiences at a Residential school. It was called I Lost My Talk.

I didn’t quite grasp the point being made by The Gracious Exchange by Christine Donkin, but it was beautifully sung regardless. The Heaven’s Flock (Eriks Esenvalds) used dense harmony and experimented with various textures- it was a bit beyond my liking but well sung.

The encore – David Bowies’ Space Oddity was just that – odd. Anyways, the audience went away satisfied after hearing this wonderful choir!

READ MORE: NOCCA unveils upcoming season


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