Heavenly songs of praise from two very different composers and cultures, separated by 105 years, featured in the weekend Edgecumbe Choir concerts successfully enhanced by four visiting soloists and organist whose performances were all quite outstanding.
The programme was a concert of contrasts – the modern John Rutter's Magnificat, premièred in New York in 1990, with Anton Bruckner's Te Deum first performed in Vienna in 1885, so these two extended works illustrated quite different styles of composition. Rutter used frequent shifts of tempo, key and time while Bruckner had his own very distinct processes and modulations, with almost mathematical precision.
The Edgecumbe Choir, its fledgling Youth Choir and the Whakatane Community Orchestra combined to present two concerts over the weekend around an unusual theme - either the music titles had to begin with the letter 'B' or, alternatively, the composers names had to begin with 'B', all delivering an enjoyable, interesting and eclectic selection of music to appreciative full houses.
“Better is peace than always war” - this was a production of heart-tugging sincerity taking its audiences into the deep pain and suffering inflicted when men go to war – any war, any time in our history, through to a tenuous peace.
The Armed Man was an extraordinarily successful major production presented by the Edgecumbe Choir with weekend performances moving some to tears, some to a numbed silence and everyone to a deep appreciation of the stunning performances.
It wouldn’t be an Eastern Bay Christmas without the Edgecumbe Choir’s celebration of the birth of the Christ child with music from all the ages helping us recall, maybe with a little more understanding, the reason for the season. The Choir presented two performances of its Glad Tidings Concert with Tony Hogg’s leadership in the Church of St George and St John this past weekend to appreciative audiences.
In two entertaining concerts in the Church of St George and St John this past weekend the Edgecumbe Choir delivered a well arranged, well performed and sometimes exuberant salute to the world of pop music. That the Choir enjoyed the programme was evident and that enjoyment, combined with some quite skilful arrangements, knowledgeable leadership from Tony Hogg and Olga Stancliff, lifted some mediocre music into a memorable category.
The Edgecumbe Choir supported by the skills and talents of local pianist Olga Stancliff, four well-chosen guest vocal soloists and a guest organist, most ably performed selections from Mozart’s operas and anthems and, in the second half, Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor, this past weekend in two concerts all under the knowledgeable baton of Tony Hogg in the Church of St George and St John.
Mozart’s composing style was unique for his time, almost radical, and his music complex and extraordinary but then his life was complex and extraordinary too, as the concert’s informative programme notes told the fascinating story of just how the Requiem came to be written and, eventually, completed.
Mozart was a child prodigy who at age seven performed across Europe, by eight had written his first three symphonies, in his teenage years mastered the piano, violin and harpsichord and then composed over 600 works during his short life. His music is inspirational and the Choir must be congratulated for presenting this fine concert for their appreciative audiences.
The choir chose Ave Verum Corpus to open the concert accompanied by Stancliff at the piano. Musically it was a good choice showing sensitive light and shading from the 50 or more, blended confident voices of the choristers.
Following this, the guest vocalists - soprano Jane Dams, alto Patricia Wackrow, bass Jarvis Dams, and tenor John Murray, accompanied by guest organist Anne Cleaver-Holm, performed seven Mozart compositions – anthems and arias, either as soloists, a duo, trio or quartet. These items were a delight of polished professionalism.
In past concerts we have enjoyed the talents of all the guests except June Dams and the quality of her singing was evident throughout delivered with clarity, excellent range and pitch, perhaps with a little over-use of vibrato, but a joy.
Murray sang with drama and good diction; Wackrow with warmth and excellent phrasing while Jarvis Dam’s return as a soloist demonstrated just how well this young man’s presentation and voice had developed since he last sang with the Edgecumbe Choir.
It should be noted that organist Anne Cleaver-Holm arrived three days before the concert to rehearse and familiarise herself with the church organ however, after the Saturday morning rehearsal the organ ‘expired’ and could not be resuscitated. Fortunately, chorister and organ devotee Warner Haldane, was able to organise the loan of the organ from his home to save the concert. Cleaver-Holm made the change apparently effortlessly.
Technically the 12-part Requiem is a demanding composition to perform with Mozart’s directions clearly requiring all singers to execute many difficult choral and individual vocal techniques - the ability to count time, to sing softly lifting the volume as needed, breathing to achieve quality phrasing and to blend all the kiwi accents into singing correct Latin.
The unity - showing how well the individual choristers were listening to each other, the excellent Latin pronunciation, the slow controlled singing, the many difficult entries and a strong alto section all worked well together to present a difficult work with style, confidence and skill. Mozart’s Requiem is a work of many seemingly disparate parts woven into a satisfying whole under Tony Hogg’s baton.
Requiem Aeternam and Kyrie: Appropriate solemn entries moving into many flowing alternate part entries. This section seemed a little too high for the sopranos to manage without losing pitch; it also had very difficult runs requiring each part to keep accurate timing and these were generally well executed.
Dies Irae: this was within the vocal range of all the choristers. Counting time, keeping pitch and volume changes were well achieved resulting in excellent tone. Well done.
Rex Tremendae: Brief but well into the mood of the piece with slow, controlled overlapping entries again, good light and shade and phrasing. Well done again.
Confutatis Maledictus: sopranos worked hard in this but were not always able to deliver sotto voce; much improved though for the Sunday performance.
Lacrymosa: a good quiet tutti entry – thank you for not singing staccato. Some lovely, well controlled singing – long notes held to the end. Beautiful singing.
Domine Jesu: organist outstanding in this. Vocally it was too high for sopranos to deliver quality tone, cope with the difficult timing and achieve strong entries. They did achieve light and shade but, in doing so, were a little under the note.
Hostias: Sopranos appeared uncertain in this and not able to handle semi tone singing with confidence. Otherwise this section was well handled.
Sanctus: a brief but difficult part of the Mass generally well performed
Benedictus: the brief tutti allegro section deserved another ‘well done’.
Agnus Dei: with its many speed changes was managed with good tone and very quiet singing capably achieved by all building to a good, confident finale.
Overall the Latin was excellent, the ability to sing slow controlled passages was evident and a pat on the back for the alto and bass voices who blended particularly well.
Upper register choral singers must have – or must develop, the ability to sing softly while maintaining pitch and quality tone. Suggestions for improvement would include singing many semitone and chromatic exercises very softly to help hear and maintain pitch and we can happily make appropriate exercises available for those who would like to use them.
We have listened and enjoyed the Choir for many, many years and have nothing but sincere appreciation for it; actually we think of the Edgecumbe Choir as ‘iconic’ in the area, repeatedly presenting good quality concerts nurturing the experience, joy and pleasure of singing, be it as a vocalist or as an audience. If any of the foregoing comments seem unduly harsh they are not meant to be; they are meant to be constructive, supportive and positive and we very much hope they will be accepted in that way.
- Leonie and Peter McRae.
From the stunning decorations to the measured, dramatic entry from the porch, the Edgecumbe Choir - led by the quiet initially unaccompanied women’s voices impressively building, layer upon layer with the men’s and the strength of the organ, the choristers moved to the sanctuary and took their places singing the regal carol, Once In Royal David’s City, to give its audiences two more winning concerts this past weekend in the Church of St George and St John.
It’s a remarkable fact that the Edgecumbe Choir has performed successfully in this district since the 1950’s; year after year, with choirs of usually around fifty or more voices (sometimes joined by another hundred or so other choristers!), concert-goers have been able to be part of the evolving quality of presentation, often with guest vocalists and instrumentalists, many of whom we might other-wise not have heard.
The Edgecumbe Choir is well-known way beyond the Bay of Plenty and is recognized as ‘special’ not just for its longevity but also for the determination of members to achieve and grow musically all-the-while enjoying making music and having fun together – as convincingly evidenced by this latest concert, Christmas Joy.
Much of the success of the Choir has been the stability and leadership of its conductors – Tony Hogg since 2002, and accompanists – Marg Murray and Olga Stancliff for over 35 years. These talented people are open to ideas and new challenges - as we saw in the September concert, Pops From The Edge.
This Christmas Joy concert had 24 well-chosen items with entertaining and good contrasts in variety for both the Choir and its supporting musicians and performers - and there were a number of ‘supporters’ including talented guest organist soloist and accompanist Anne Cleaver-Holms, valued contributions from piano accompanist Olga Stancliff, flautist Katelyn Goldsmith, tenor Ian Lysaght, solo passages from soprano Sarah Holmes, timpanist Ian Wilson and the delightful SKAT a capella trio with 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas'; so much talent to enjoy and then, so much obvious enjoyment too, from the audience participating in five of the classic carols.
A detailed critique is not possible but it’s valid to record the Choir raised the bar once again with two confident Christmas Joy concerts even in quality, consistently good in tone and practicing a unity which comes only from the skill of listening to each other. And obviously the word is getting around that it’s good to be part of the Choir as it was a bonus to observe the Choir is attracting younger voices.
The reviewers have been in choir audiences for many years and have had the pleasure of witnessing regular & steady growth in the Edgecumbe Choir’s musicality and professionalism and firmly believe the Choir is an iconic treasure for the Eastern Bay. May all of them have not only a blessed Christmas but also a merry one, too!
- Leonie and Peter McRae
It was different. From the initial, casual ‘walk-on’ of choir members wearing various bright, solid-coloured tops to the all-pop-song programme, the Edgecumbe Choir’s Pops From The Edge concert was definitely a ‘different’ concert for them. As an initiative it positively signaled that the Edgecumbe Choir is for singers of all ages and also, that well-written choral arrangements of pop songs are available and are there for the singing.
Opening and closing with the strong and rhythmic number, I’ll be There For You, a bright arrangement of the theme from the TV series Friends, the concert was well led by a relaxed Tony Hogg and accompanied by the always resourceful pianist, Olga Stancliff; it played to good audiences in the Church of St George and St John over the weekend including a capacity audience on Sunday.
The second item, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida, featured well controlled, lovely four-part harmony and a delightfully soft ending to the song. The choir’s next item - Everything I Do, was a beautiful, unaccompanied and quite difficult song delivered with clipped diction, good tempo and volume changes, all handled sensitively.
Alternating men’s and women’s entries were effectively used in the rhythmical Haven’t Met You Yet but the song seemed difficult and would have benefitted from crisper diction and defined word endings.
Nella Fantasia – sung in English, was quite beautiful, emotionally moving with well blended voices and smooth legato all of which the choir must have worked hard to achieve; surely the composer would have been delighted with this presentation of his work.
Freddie Mercury’s Somebody To Love is a song you can either rock along with or leave alone and, in this, the choir used two of their members as featured soloists – Moira Hanna and Sarah Holmes, both using microphones; these two singers have strong voices and consequently, their over-amplified sound did not work very well with a choir which was not amplified.
After the interval, the choir’s first item was an outstanding Les Miserables Medley effectively using Moira Hanna’s voice for the solos – literally coming over the top of the choir’s muted, blended voices, for a fine theatrical effect giving fresh life to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s well-known music. In this medley the choir demonstrated well-managed, sensitive choral techniques - especially the ability to listen to each other, and overall development and commitment. Well done.
Syncopation is essential in Hey Soul Sister and syncopation can be difficult to achieve in a choral setting. Some of the choristers did not seem comfortable while others were right into it however, the audience did get into the rhythm with enthusiastic handclapping. Nice one!
The Finn bothers Song of the Lonely Mountain, used in the Hobbit movie An Unexpected Journey, is written in a minor key and the choir was very much at home in this unusual song skillfully using sustained harmonies to make satisfying listening.
Sure On This Shining Night, an appealing composition by American Choral Master, Morton Lauridsen, again showed a well-performing mens section - particularly through the introduction to the piece, and a choir well suited to this composer’s style of composition.
Interspersed throughout the Choir’s programme were four items from Steps Musical Theatre senior class and, of these performers, Jessie Rosewarne shone with a confident singing of A Change In Me from Beauty and The Beast. Bailey Twomey, perhaps a little unwisely, chose a well-known George Gershwin jazz standard, Someone To Watch Over Me, while the five dancers performed two numbers, I Hope I Get It from Chorus Line, and the other, from Fame, both with enthusiasm and energy.
It was an unusual concert programme for the Edgecumbe Choir and they are to be commended for having the courage and energy to tackle a different genre with such enthusiasm and verve. Acknowledging the pop music world should be an incentive for those who, in the past, have hesitated to lend and blend their voices and join in the choir’s joy of all that is good in choral music.
- Leonie and Peter McRae
There were 33 singers, including ten from the Edgecumbe Choir, with representatives from all sections. Unusually, the combined choir lacked male tenors!
David Squire was our conductor: he widened our vocal repertoire using music ranging from traditional American spriritual to Portugese! He will also be remembered for some very energetic warm-up exercises, and for introducing us to Robert Wiremu's vowel clock when attempting to improve our diction.
Leon Gray-Lockhart (accompanist) provided more memorable warm-ups. He thoroughly confused some of us by encouraging us to use the Curwen hand signs (which are commonly used to improve young children's pitch).
Some evening views from the shores of Lake Rotorua
Creation – inspiration and joy
The Edgecumbe Choir’s 50 voices supplemented with 55 more from the Kowhai Singers and the Pohutukawa Singers of Warkworth, gave a glorious performance of Hadyn’s Creation on Saturday evening to a most appreciative audience.
This huge choir partnered with well-chosen visiting vocal soloists: coloratura soprano Catherine Macdonald, bass Jarvis Dam and tenor John Murray, plus visiting organist Michael Bell.
Eastern bay instrumentalists were Olga Stancliff on harpsichord, Matthew Pryor on cello, Ian Wilson on timpani and Sandy and William Herewini on trumpets, to give a most impressive performance of this loved oratorio.
The evening was especially enjoyable in that all facets – choir, soloists and instrumentalists - combined extremely well to deliver a unified, confident and well-paced performance.
For that reason, considerable commendation must be awarded to conductor Tony Hogg who, with seemingly minimal effort, led 105 choristers, three vocal soloists and eight instrumentalists through every intricacy of the oratorio with remarkable skill and composure.
The knowledge, musicianship and leadership Hogg demonstrated was outstanding.
From the slow tempo instrumental overture, suggesting mists and mystery building through the first bass solo to the explosive creation of light, the oratorio held its audience right to the wonderful, triumphal, full and final chorus two and a half hours later.
Set in three parts, the oratorio uses character voices to sing the narrative expressing Haydn’s wonder and joy in God’s creation, enacted day by day, in the biblical six days.
The voices of the three soloists are variously those of angels and of Adam and Eve - the bass singer is Raphael-Adam, the tenor Uriel and the soprano Gabriel-Eve, with the choir and instrumentalists contributing equally, and essentially, to the story-telling.
In her characterisations as the angel Gabriel and as Eve, Catherine Macdonald always had control and fluency and soft, sensitive phrasing when required.
Her ability was especially evident in the techniques used in trills and turns and in the way she highlighted passages with descriptive light and shade.
Both John Murray and Jarvis Dam were similarly accomplished.
Dam gave a fine performance over a wide-ranging part and sang with a warm tone and good projection. Murray, in character, immediately established a good relationship with the audience; he was obviously knowledgeable singing with confidence and excellent expression.
All three soloists used rubato (a relaxing of strict tempo during a phrase) confidently and brought considerable talent and professionalism to their roles.
Again, all three had consistent clarity of tone and pitch throughout, all had good diction, and in trio and duets, blended exceedingly well.
The unity of all 116 individual talents under Hogg’s baton was the greatest joy of the concert.
The combined choir’s soprano sound was ethereal in all the right places, the basses gave substance and grave thought when needed and the overall balance, contrast colour and tone were a joy.
At times, the combined voices were simply outstanding, achieving smooth, gradual and controlled crescendos and diminuendos - surely something that would have delighted Haydn who, over 18 months, poured his heart into the composition.
Well done Edgecumbe Choir.
Leonie and Peter McRae
published in Whakatane Beacon, 24 April 2013
Yule be sorry if you missed this concert
The Edgecumbe Choir has eased audiences into Christmas mode with a yuletide programme of 20 old and new summer carols.
The 50-plus choristers, well led by conductor Tony Hogg who also introduced items with interesting commentaries, presented a fine and disciplined blend of voices with good light and shade colouring the music.
The choir was accompanied by Hamilton-based rising musical star Timothy Carpenter at the organ, and talented local pianist Olga Stancliff. However, much of the choir’s programme was successfully sung unaccompanied.
The concert also introduced the fresh faces and voices of the Apanui School Choir with three carols conducted by Karyn Templeton and some supporting by the Edgecumbe Choir.
The Apanui children were a delight and a credit to their conductor and school.
The Edgecumbe Choir’s programme included four John Rutter carols - the choir has an affinity for his music - five of David Willcocks’ classic arrangements (some performed with a little help from audiences), stylish works by such diverse composers as Benjamin Britten and J.S. Bach and even a carol by New Zealander Colin Gibson called The Wind Blew Keen.
The concert was a refreshing entry to the new yuletide season and the best of its music.
The programme opened in the tradition of Once In Royal David’s City with the choir processing into the church, the male and female voices singing alternating passages, with the organ accompanying them for the final verse. It was an effective opening.
A contrast followed with a bright, bubbly Jingle Bells introduced with a strong, speedy entry from the women’s voices then more strength added by the men’s - all obviously enjoyed by the choir and audiences.
The first of the David Willcocks arrangements was the unaccompanied, How Far is it to Bethlehem, featuring soft and controlled soprano and alto singing with good diction and vowels and managing beautiful discords too.
J.S. Bach’s arrangement of O Little One Sweet was performed unaccompanied and with understanding of his beautiful harmonies and discords all sung with soft entries, good diction and vowels and strong underpinning alto singing. Well done.
Rutter’s the Shepherd’s Pipe Carol is a difficult composition and the choir made it special.
From the strong, confident male voice entry and the following delicate staccato passage through to the contrasted smooth legato singing of the full choir, the time changes and the well handled soprano melody line, the choir exceeded expectation.
It’s impossible to comment on each item but mention must be made of:
Finally, the Christmas themed music was given a delightful touch with some extras – the outstanding chorister dolls, the beautiful wreaths and the chocolate Santas. Merry Christmas everyone!
Leonie & Peter McRae
Published in Whakatane Beacon, 7 December 2012
Around The World, Song by Song
In 1872 Jules Verne wrote Around The World in Eighty Days and had his hero, Phineas Fogg & his valet, Passepartout, attempting what was then considered impossible – circumnavigating the globe in 80 days.
This past weekend, with conductor and compere Tony Hogg leading the way, the Edgecumbe Choir took audiences on a stylish and delightful round-the-world sampling of music from many nations in ’80 minutes’. As with Verne’s story the concert was a winner.
From the strong, rhythmic opening of the New Zealand traditional number, A Te Tarakihi (A Cicada) with clean phrasing, the music crossed the Tasman for a quite special, unaccompanied arrangement of Waltzing Matilda with good soprano and tenor work.
From Oz it was off to Africa for a traditional Sotho church hymn, Ga Gona Ya Tswanang Le Jesu, expressing the African ‘feel’ for the music not only in the harmony but also visually with the choir (and conductor) swaying in unison, to the African beat.
Japan was next for Sakura, another traditional song but this time celebrating the beauty of the flowering cherry blossom trees; such a special time for the Japanese people. In this, both male sections of the choir coped very well with a challenging higher range and close harmony.
It was an easy transition to the USA for a sensitive singing of the song Louis Armstrong made his own – What A Wonderful World. In this, beautiful, overlaying harmony was used to contrast well-performed discords; again, special mention must be made of the strong contribution from the male voices.
Staying in the States, it was time to Steal Away unaccompanied - the much loved Negro Spiritual; this was devotional with good vocal balance from the choir and showed particular strength in the tenors. Staying put in the States, a John Rutter arrangement of When The Saints Go Marching In followed. Then it was up to Canada for the Leonard Cohen number, Hallelujah, sung with good vowel sounds.
Ireland had to be represented by Danny Boy! This was an attractive arrangement of the song performed unaccompanied with carefully managed phrasing and again, delightful discords in the part singing. Additionally, the performance featured some attractive soprano passages.
Down to Wales for a little-known, unaccompanied Welsh song, The Sands of Dee, and then up to Scotland for the Skye Boat Song - both well balanced and performed.
To complete the United Kingdom visit, the choir sang the sensitive, Simon and Garfunkel version of Scarborough Fair, with controlled dynamics and legato to a supportive accompaniment.
The tour then crossed the English Channel to arrive in France for a stirring rendition of Le Marsellaise sung with well balanced harmonies (and a beret- wearing Olga Stancliff accompanying them).
Jean Sibelius, composer of Finland’s entry, Finlandia is said to have had much to do with the formation of Finland’s national identity and this anthem of his eloquently expresses a love of his homeland. The harmonies were outstanding and the choir sustained them well. It was an emotional and appealing item.
Three Hungarian Folksongs followed and they were sung with excellent diction and variable speeds and the choir’s sense of enjoyment of these pieces were well conveyed. From Hungary the musical tour took the audience to Italy for the well-known Neapolitan song, O Sole Mio; in this the opening appeared a little uncertain.
A giant journey followed and we were in Cuba for Guantanamera. The choir ‘celebrated’ this song and its Latin American rhythm (“cha cha cha”), with quite some style and pizzazz. Then down to Uruguay to tango with La Cumparsita. The final song brought us back to New Zealand with a memorable repeat of A Te Tarakihi for a finale.
The Choir’s concert, supported throughout with Olga Stancliff’s skills and four contrasting and interspersed items from the talented, totally upbeat & swinging Trident Jazz Combo, deserved ‘Full House’ signs. The vocal programme was delightfully varied showing both depth and unity and a confident ability to present multiple national idioms very well indeed. Well done Edgecumbe Choir.
Leonie & Peter McRae
Published in Whakatane Beacon, 29 August 2012
Trident High School Jazz Combo:
Messiah: the promise fulfilled, hallelujah
For generations all Israel had been in a state of growing tension awaiting the coming of the prophesised messiah.
Seventeen hundred years later Englishman Charles Jennens selected prophetic words from the King James Bible and others from the Psalms in the Common Book of Prayer and sent them, as a libretto, to George Frederic Handel.
In just 24 hours Handel wrote the score based on that libretto, composing music for an outstanding oratorio known as the Messiah. Handel then took two more days and polished it. Remarkable.
The Messiah, as presented in performance by the Edgecumbe Choir last weekend, was also genuinely remarkable – a joyful success.
For this, great credit must be given to conductor Tony Hogg who led a unified, well – prepared 55 – member choir, four well chosen guest soloists, an outstanding guest organist and five fine local instrumentalists through two warmly memorable and, at times, inspiring performances.
It is impossible, in the space of this review, to adequately cover the choir’s success with this major work.
Mention must be made of the full choir singing the many speedy and difficult melodic changes and sequences with control and clarity leading to a satisfying blending with soloists’ voices.
The choir was confident and focused, responding as one to their conductor’s lead.
The balance was good, heightened with some youthful voices and a strong bass section.
Chase Douglas, the tenor soloist, never once forced his voice – using light and shade to interpret Handel’s music with insight and perception.
His early first solo, Comfort Ye, was sensitively presented and the recitative,Unto Which of the Angels Said He, was sung with style and grace.
Bass, Jarvis Dam, the second soloist, gave a most satisfying performance conveying his dramatic moments with the skill of an experienced professional.
His ability to sustain long phrases was also commendable. Both Dam and Douglas had excellent diction and made valued contributions to the performance. We must see more of these two young men.
Contralto Patricia Wackrow’s early recitative, Behold a Virgin Shall Conceive, was sung with effective technique and with all the ability developed over years of experience, handling the somber mood of the air, He Was Despised, with sadness and dignity.
Soprano Catherine MacDonald was a joy. She placed her voice with confidence and skill, maintaining a clear, lyrical tone throughout the composer’s demanding score and always with excellent diction.
MacDonald’s I Know That My Redeemer Liveth was simply beautiful.
Guest organist Michael Bell and Olga Stancliff on keyboard (played as a spinet) were sensitive, supportive and attentive throughout the entire performance.
Matthew Pryor’s cello, in concert with the sound of the spinet, added authenticity to the music of Handel’s era; Maurice Reid and Sandy Herewini’s trumpets sounded triumphantly right on cue and Ian Wilson’s drums all added hugely to the building climax leading into what must be the longest “Amen” in the history of music.
That the Edgecumbe Choir’s production of the Messiah was a triumph is evidenced by the fact that both audiences gave it well – earned standing ovations.
Leonie & Peter McRae
Published in Bay Weekend, 5 May 2012
Choir on song with Christmas cracker
Like a packed Christmas stocking full of delightful presents and tempting goodies, the Edgecumbe Choir entertained audiences with their Christmas Wonder concerts.
The choir deserved their near capacity audiences.
Tony Hogg conducted with flair and good control through 10 Christmas hymns and carols supported by accomplished pianist, Olga Stancliff and talented organist Anne Cleaver-Holm.
The programme was an enjoyable mix of old and new compositions and arrangements.
Guest artist Anne Cleaver-Holm, the organist at Hamilton’s St Peter’s Cathedral, was entirely at home with her four solo items, playing with a fine understanding of both her selected music and the organ as her chosen instrument.
Warner Haldane led the audience through the programme with an entertaining commentary.
Audience participation was invited in four old favourite carols interspersed throughout the programme and these were obviously a highlight – particularly in the concluding item – a David Willcocks’ arrangement of O Come All Ye Faithful, which threatened to lift the church roof.
The choir enjoyed their programme too, opening with beautiful harmonies and a well balanced sound in an unaccompanied, traditional Basque piece The Angel Gabriel.
They followed this with No Small Wonder, written in 1983 by Paul Wigmore and Paul Edwards, which demonstrated a controlled soprano entry leading to the whole choir successfully managing difficult discords. It was well sung.
Next was a Peter Warlock item, Bethlehem Down, inspired by a Bruce Blunt poem.
Warlock, a mostly self-taught composer who died aged 36 in 1930, wrote it in a minor key, giving the piece a sensitive depth.
The choir performed it with a well-controlled entry following through to fine legato singing at the end.
Barry Rose, probably better known for conducting the choir at the wedding of Price Charles and Lady Diana, arranged the next item, Angelus ad Virginem, a 14th century carol. This carol built volume by adding voices as it progressed, backed by strong support from the organ.
E’en so, Lord Jesus, an unaccompanied Advent motet by American Paul Manz and adapted by Ruth Manz, had frequent time changes and tested the sopranos’ register in one section.
However John Rutter’s music was well suited to the choir and their performance of his arrangement of The Twelve Days of Christmas was a fine example of this, showing good diction and a fine sense of the fun in the song.
After the interval, the Messe de Minuit (or Midnight Mass) featured. This, from the Baroque era, was in three segments – the well sung Kyrie was quite long with overlaying, ever building moments; the Kyrie was quite long with a clear, full chorus and almost perfect timing.
The Agnus Dei, while brief, was strong and uplifting.
This piece had good crisp Latin pronunciation.
Rutter’s words and music were chosen again for the choir’s two final carols: these were the delightful, well performed Candlelight Carol and Angels’ Carol, in which Rutter repeats the same joyful theme – “Gloria in excelsis Deo”.
Although these carols sound simply constructed, they are multi-layered and most appealing and the choir delivered well blended, excellent harmonies and appealing singing.
The choir is to be thanked for their dedication and talents.
Successful choral performance is about singers listening to each other – delivering as one voice, one sound; importantly, the audience should hear the same sounds from the collected voices, each vowel sung identically.
If you have ever thought “I would like to be part of that” then you and your voice would be welcomed.
The next concert is Handel’s Messiah.
Published in Whakatane Beacon, 16 December 2011
Excellent execution of Vivaldi’s ode to springtime by choir
What is life without music?
It doesn’t matter if it’s punk rock or Wagnerian Ring cycles – the reality is music puts colour, expression and a sense of identity into our lives, lifting the “everyday and the ordinary” into an enhanced and better place.
And the Edgecumbe Choir concert last weekend did just that, with a spring-themed musical move into the sunnier season.
In the first half of the programme, conductor Tony Hogg capably led the 35 voices through a varied programme of nine songs, ranging from the compositions of Guiseppe Verdi through to a more contemporary John Rutter.
The songs were interspersed with two brackets of organ sols from guest organist Michael Cox, head of music at Wesley College in Auckland.
The programme opened confidently presenting With a Voice of Singing in near perfect pitch (this is difficult to maintain when singing strongly), and really well managed repeated “Alleluias” in unison through to a controlled ending.
The next two numbers were known to everyone – Verdi’s Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves and Wagner’s Bridal Chorus.
The choir managed the volume contrasts well in the Hebrew Slaves, but with a little uncertainty in some lower notes. However, overall deportment was excellent allowing good support for voices.
Michael Cox showed his mastery of the organ with a fine touch in his bracket of two brief pieces – Adagio in C by Mozart and Scarlatti’s Vountary in D. The choir followed these with three Vaughan Williams songs including unaccompanied work. The diction was sharp and the male voices showed some notable quality, with the sopranos managing some difficult intervals.
Vivaldi’s Gloria was the major work of the concert. The choir sang the Latin with clarity and precision.
The work calls for sol as well as choir singing. The Laudamus te duet was particularly well executed, with repetitive “speedy” singing by soprano Catherine MacDonald and contralto Patricia Walcrow. MacDonald returned to sing the ariaDomine Deus, Wacrow the aria Domine Deus, Agnus Dei (with the choir) and then another aria – Qui sedes ad dexteram. Both these soloists are experienced, competent singers of a high standard and they brought a richness to the total performance. If there is a criticism, it is that the soloists were heard but not very well seen – they need to stand on a dias.
Particular mention must be made of the major contribution of accompanist Olga Stancliff. The skilled support she provided throughout but particularly in Gloria, was quite special.
It was a concert to sit back and let the music fill the mind and heart and enjoy.
Published in Whakatane Beacon, 16 September 2011
On the heels of a successful 2010 season the choir, for its first concert for 2011, chose Karl Jenkin's "The Armed Man". This is not so much a review of the performance as a report. The performances took place in the Church of St George & St John on 9 and 10 April. This was an early date for the choir but with other community commitments this was seen as the best window of opportunity to attract reasonable sized audiences.
Let me say right at the start that the performance was absolutely stunning. Later listenings of the recordings bear this out.
Because of a scarcity of local talent or other commitments, getting a local ensemble was nigh impossible so the choir went out of town. It ended up with a most professional ensemble of talented players. The ensemble didn't get together until the Friday night before the performances and then with the choir only for the only dress rehearsal on Saturday.
Cellist Tamsin Kreymborg was in the country for a month, taking a break from her Masters degree in Music in Germany and found time to play for us (she played for our previous performance). Timpanist Anne Bovett and percussionists James Fuller and Jacob Randall came from New Plymouth. Organist Anne Holmes and flautist Elsie Kane came from Hamilton
The performance of the choir went up several notches with the support of such a professional backing ensemble. So right from the martial introduction of "L'homme Armé" on the Saturday performance to the final "A-men" of the work on Sunday, one knew it was going to be a sensational season. And it was. The unsolicited applause and feedback, not to mention the occasional teary eye in the audience during the performance, proved this.
Soloists Sarah Holmes - soprano, Moira Hanna - alto, Marshall Hyland - tenor and Bevan Schwass - bass, all from the choir came together so convincingly for the horror and abhorrence of war in "Angry Flames". Moira's rendition of that of a survivor of war mourning the loss of her loved one in "Angry Flames" was also poignantly delivered. The choir couldn't have asked for better.
A third dimension to the work was the visual synchronised graphics. A large screen was mounted behind the choir and graphics, professionally produced specifically for the work, were screened to tie in with the choruses. Dave from Outlet Productions ensured the precision of the screening to link to the music. The continuous screening played a significant role in setting the tone for each chorus throughout the work.
It was largely the efforts of the choir and word of mouth that allowed The Armed Man to be performed to near capacity audiences. Certainly there was only mediocre assistance from the local media (in spite of a generous advertising budget in their direction).
In spite of better than budgeted audiences, The Armed Man ran at a sizeable loss. This was expected with high costs for instrumentalists, copyright, performing rights, screening rights. None-the-less the choir went into this with a willingness to present to the Eastern Bay a performance of choral music at its very best. This, it did. The audiences certainly went away believing it.
Posted by Tony Hogg on 17 May 2011
The Armed Man
The stage is set for sight
For all the people gathered
Choir assembled below the
Musicians tuned and ready,
all eyes on the maestro
Arms raised in command –
Let the mass begin
The glorious Kyrie, soaring
Prayed for deliverance from
The hearbeat quickened as
To a crashing crescendo –
a frightening sound
Of desolation and death
Somehow sanctifies by
As reverent voices sang to
In the pleading Agnus Dei.
Brutality ended and quiet
To hear the trumpet’s
Of comfort to give – and life
left to live
Lifting spirits where peace
The voice of the cello
blessed the mass
With calm consoling
And the singing came to its
With the message for the
world to pray
That nations find the better
Of peace for mankind –
Published in Bay Weekend,
30 April 2011
Marvellous Mozart was the first concert in 2010 for the Edgecumbe Choir. Under the baton of musical director Tony Hogg, the Choir, accompanied by organist Michael Bell, presented two works – the Mozart Twelfth Mass and the Coronation Mass. The afternoon may have been titled “Mainly Mozart” as Mozart is now generally regarded as not being the composer of the Twelfth Mass.
The concert on Sunday the 27th of June in the Church of St George and of St John, Whakatane, was the first I have attended for some time. The change in seating direction for the choir and audience has been a big improvement for the audience. The choir, now seated in the sanctuary of the church, accords much better acoustics, easier viewing and a more logical position for the audience.
The programme started with the Mozart “Twelfth Mass”. This very much unknown piece of work was an instant success with the audience. I suspect its immediate appeal was the well crafted blend of the four soloists and the choir. The bass Jarvis Dams started straight in to the Kyrie with full control and the texture of a performer much more advanced than his 20 years. Throughout the evening this young singer showed he has a career to watch – his Gloria was poised, rousing and beautifully punctuated by the lively staccato of the organ. And the Benedictus showed just what his range is as he descended to the lower reaches of his voice. I do hope the Choir can engage his services on a regular basis in the future.
One can’t speak highly enough of all the soloists. They were in essence a perfect blend. Tenor John Murray displayed lovely control, his phrasing was alluring and crystal clear. Catherine MacDonald’s voice was just stunning and she was in fine form despite earlier worries about a pending cold and sore throat. She was captivating, lyrical, with a bell like quality and power that one can see why she has sung the role of the “Queen of the Night” from Mozart’s “The Magic flute”. Patricia Wackrow is a veteran of the Contralto repertoire and once again showed why she continues to be invited to sing with the Edgecumbe Choir. Her powerful voice and register were well suited to the two pieces and to compliment her fellow soloists. Patricia is a seasoned performer with the Edgecumbe Choir and once again didn’t disappoint the audience.
We heard Catherine and Patricia sing with the choir two years ago in Solomon and I hope we can see these two experienced performers perform together again in the future.
The choir rose to the demands of the “Twelfth” and really found their feet in “Cum sancto spiritu in gloria dei patris” from the Gloria. Throughout both masses they sung with enthusiasm and vigour.
The Twelfth Mass is not an easy undertaking as there are no recordings of the full mass available. Since it was discovered that it was probably not written by Mozart himself, but mostly by Wenzell Muller, the mass has vanished from mainstream choral music. For a community choir this means that rehearsals are probably the first time members hear the music and there are no opportunities to listen to recordings between practices. I’m glad they persevered; the Twelfth is a lovely Mass, well worth the effort and rewarding for both choir and audience.
The Coronation Mass is a very popular Mozart mass. Despite being a short mass it features all the spectacle and musical pageantry of the day. Any Choir that performs this mass has their performance marked by the many dozens of recording and live concerts. It is a busy piece of music. This performance of the Coronation Mass did not disappoint. Heads nodding in unison to the music gave testimony to the audience’s appreciation of the choir and their rendition to this well known and loved piece of music.
Both performances were led with great feeling by organist Michael Bell. His accompaniment was marvellous. It was a true performance where the conductor, choir and organist were very much in touch with each other.
Credit must go to the commitment of the members of the choir, to Tony Hogg, their musical director, and the soloists. This was community music and enterprise at its finest, and all who attended left well satisfied with the afternoon’s performance.
Posted by Tony Hogg on 1 July 2010
Forty-two singers of the Edgecumbe Choir, three soloists and four musicians chose the occasion of his death 250 years ago to celebrate his brilliance. Twenty-two works were chosen from various times in his career to show his diverse styles and moods from sombre, to opera, to fiery war-inspirations and grand oratorio. That the choir loves to sing his work has a proven record. In fact, it has sung Messiah nine times; single works more than 62 times including this concert; four oratorios, Messiah, Israel in Egypt, Samson and Solomon.
Unfortunately our reviewer was unable to attend either performance so the opportunity was offered to several musically-qualified people among the two audiences to speak on their impressions.
The dry wit of conductor, Tony Hogg, came to the fore when he announced to the audience at the start of Saturday’s performance that the first item on the programme, ‘See the Conquering Hero Comes’ was dedicated to The Bay of Plenty Steamers provincial rugby team on their win against Canterbury just minutes before the start of the concert!
It was also coincidental that the choir’s previous concert fell on the Mother’s Day weekend and this one was on Father’s Day and “we may continue this trend,” says Tony.
“There were some exceptional moments which were of the highest standard the choir has ever reached,”said the Whakatane Community Orchestra’s director, Tom Bayliss. “The singers respond well to Tony Hogg, conductor, and the result was very co-ordinated and well balanced. The strongest numbers for me were See the Conquering Hero, the Hallelujah Chorus, The Trumpet’s Loud Clangour and Behold, I Tell You…The Trumpet Shall Sound with wonderful trumpet playing by Maurice Reid and Sandy Herewini. I have known Tom Oates, bass vocalist, since we were teenagers in the same town and this was the best s singing I’ve ever heard from him. I was also very impressed with organist, Anne Holm, whose sensitive playing made the baroque works very moving. She provided the right tone colours and effects and coaxed some of the best sounds that I’ve heard come out of that organ. Everyone concerned can be very proud and they are a great credit to the town.”
Perfect sunny Spring weather was what accompanied vocal teacher, Leonie McRae, when she attended Handel Pops.“The choir delivered an excellent concert with a good balance of voices delivering a ‘warm’ sound with lots of light & shade in it. And humour too – in the two pieces arranged by Michael Diack. The programme of Handel’s music was well arranged with three accomplished vocal soloists & two outstanding trumpeters adding their talents to the Choir’s polished performance sensitively supported by the accompanists, Olga Stancliff & guest organist, Anne Holm. We are most fortunate to have the broad range of performing arts talent in our district & it must also be encouraging for the performers to have enthusiastic & appreciative audiences supporting them.”
“Exciting,” was the feeling expressed by local music teacher, Marion Newdick. “It was well balanced, lively, had humour and the choir smiled throughout. There were several of Handel’s distinctly forceful compositions and then, right in the middle, was Come Holy Spirit. This showed a different side to the choir. It was all sung pianissimo and was just beautiful. Stand-out moments for me were the wonderful trumpet sections played as they would have been in Handel’s day, the men’s solo of Spring and three top-class soloists, Patricia Wackrow, Elizabeth Pilaar and Tom Oates and both accompanists who gave us so much enjoyment.”
Audiences will have the chance to hear their local choir in its final concert for the year at Christmas.
The Edgecumbe Choir’s first concert for the year was very well received by sell-out audiences last weekend at the Church of St George and St John in Whakatane.
In a departure from their normal repertoire the choir presented “Stepping Out”, an evening of popular songs from Gilbert and Sullivan to Eric Clapton, Rogers and Hammerstein to Queen. It was an ambitious programme but every piece was brilliantly arranged, wonderfully executed and enthusiastically received. The large choir, sporting some new (and younger!) faces, was ably conducted by the affable and animated Tony Hogg and accompanied by Olga Stancliff, whose sensitive and accomplished piano playing provided both structure and adornment to the choral pieces.
The concert commenced with a medley from Oliver. “Consider yourself at home” made everyone welcome and we knew we were in for a great night. The first of our soloists was revealed during this medley when we were treated to the bell like tones of long time choir member Barbara Law.
In ”Tit Willow” from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado the row and a half of male voices proved that though they were outnumbered three to one they weren’t to be outshone by the female choristers. The programme bounced from Bach to McCartney to Simon and Garfunkel to a very moving “You’ll never walk alone” from Carousel by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The arrangements were wonderful and rich and made the most of the talent within the choir.
“All I ask of you” from Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber showed off the A Cappella abilities of the choir and the “Lord is my Shepherd” arrangement made popular by the Vicar of Dibley had us checking for Dawn French in the wings. “The Lion Sleeps tonight” was well harmonised by the choir who obviously enjoyed singing it as much as we enjoyed listening. Then a wee bit of ABBA in “I have a Dream” and the first half ended poignantly with Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns”.
The second half commenced with Tony Hogg sprinting down the aisle to the podium and a lively and lovely “My Fair Lady” medley. Two more local talents made their evening debut here. Another longstanding member of the choir, Avril Gow, delighted us as Eliza Dolittle and Bevan Schwass shone as Prof Henry Higgins.
“Ol’ Man River” again showed the power of the bass section and the A Cappella arrangement of “A Policeman’s Lot” from the Pirates of Penzance provided some contrast in tone from the previous item.
A real treat was hearing and seeing the Grandmother/Granddaughter duo of Barbara and Amy Law sing “Pie Jesu”. There were quite a few wet eyes in the audience as this pair, born to sing together, blended so perfectly.
The audience was also treated to some virtuosic piano playing by Dolan Cox, the guest solo pianist, an extremely talented local lad and student at Whakatane High School. Dolan played 4 pieces interspersed through the concert starting with “New Orleans Blues” and moving back through time to Baroque pieces by Scarlatti and Bach then forward to Rondo “Alla Turca “by Mozart. His phrasing was brilliant and the piano sang to his touch. In the Baroque pieces the themes were clearly yet subtly highlighted as they moved through the voices. In the Mozart the contrasts were beautifully rendered, not only could he make the piano sing he could also make it thunder. We look forward to seeing and hearing more of Dolan in the future.
Each piece was well chosen for the night and well performed but what an ambitious way to end the concert with the ultimate Rock anthem from Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody”! The mood, key and tempo changes were superbly executed and it was the perfect finale to a wonderful programme.
It was encouraging to see some young emerging talent being involved in this concert. The discipline, camaraderie and experience that working in and with a choir brings is invaluable – and it certainly looked like a whole lot of fun!
Posted by Tony Hogg on 11 May 2009
Two Choirs, two provinces, two public performances. Saturday 20 September saw the second public performance of Handel’s Solomon by a combined choir comprised of the Gisborne Choral Society and the Edgecumbe Choir.
Each of the choirs have practised separately during the past months and tonight’s performance at the Liberty Centre in Whakatane was their second performance, the first being a fortnight ago in Gisborne at the Holy Trinity Church. Both performances took place under the baton of David Vine as guest conductor.
Handel wrote the role of Solomon for a female contralto. Auckland based contralto Patricia Wackrow gave the role power and authority, showing at times the lighter and higher register her voice is capable of. No stranger to the Eastern Bay of Plenty, Patricia is a seasoned performer with the Edgecumbe Choir and once again didn’t disappoint the audience.
Her role of Solomon was very supported by fellow soloists and choir. Gisborne based Soprano, Catherine MacDonald, singing both the Queen and 1st woman, delighted the audience. Her voice was quite enchanting, lyrical, light, airy but with the power and clear diction required for such a role. I do hope the Eastern Baycan see more of her.
Second soprano, Rotorua based Elizabeth Pilaar, as the second woman gave a solid performance, showing a good understanding of the role and the confidence she no doubt displays as musical director of Rotorua’s ‘Con Spirito”.
Zadok is a minor role but one which requires the singer to sit for long periods and then perform for short periods. Tenor Michael Rumping showed the audience he was up to the task and gave a creditable performance which will add to his repertoire as he completes his musical studies at Waikato University.
Gisborne based Baritone Gavin Maclean’s role as the Levite was small and delivered early in the piece, but nevertheless well presented.
Guest conductor David Vine didn’t miss a beat. Truly a professional, the evenings performance reflected his wide experience not only as a performer of piano and harpsichord but also for his work with most of the major orchestras and choirs ofNew Zealand.
Credit must go to the commitment of the members of the combined choirs, and to Tony Hogg, musical director for the Edgecumbe choir. The choirs worked together perfectly in unison, no mean feat given their limited opportunity to rehearse together and the geographical barriers of distance.
Solomon is well-known for its choruses, and the combined choruses were superb. I must make special mention of the Nightingale chorus “May no rash intruder’ ’ at the end of act one. The chorus’s graceful interpretation and bell like tone was quite mesmerising.
The orchestra players provided a lively and grand flavour to the evening. Warm strings, triumphant trumpets and a timpani section which gave military order were used to good effect in supporting the soloists and choirs.
Solomon is one of Handel’s finest oratorios. This performance was greatly welcomed by the audience and full marks must go to all of those who worked together to bring the evening’s performance to fruition.
Posted by Tony Hogg on 24 Sep 2008
The weekend of the 8th and 9th of December, 2007, saw the final concert in the Jubilee Year series for the Edgecumbe Choir. Two works were performed for concert goers – a commissioned work “Jubilate Deo” and “The Armed Man – A Mass for Peace” by Karl Jenkins.
2007 was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Edgecumbe Choir and one of the ways in which the Choir celebrated the occasion was the commissioning of a Choral Work.
This was widely advertised in 2006 and 2007 and drew 37 entries which were considered by the judges, Karen Grylls, ONZM, Associate-Professor of Music atAuckland University, James Tibbles, Associate Head of School of Music at theUniversity of Auckland, and Tony Hogg, resident conductor and Musical Director of the Edgecumbe Choir.
Commissions can be problematic. Firstly, concert goers might simply not enjoy the piece, despite its technical brilliance. It’s akin to a brave new piece of architecture or modern art. You love it or hate it. And secondly, there are no bench marks from previous recordings so its performance is to some extent up to interpretation, unless of course the composer is instrumental in its debut performance.
Neither of these fears transpired on Sunday, when the winning commission had its second performance by the Edgecumbe Choir.
The work, titled ‘Jubilate Deo’ by Andrew Baldwin was very well received.’ Jubilate Deo is Latin for ‘O be joyful in the Lord’ and what a happy, bright and joyful piece this was.
Twenty one year old Andrew, a third-year Bachelor of Music Student, majoring in composition at the New Zealand School of Music, in Wellington, is currently serving a second year as Composer-In-Residence at the Wellington Cathedral of St. Paul.
His presence at the premier of his work was very much an active one with Andrew providing accompaniment on the Xylophone along with Olga Stancliff on the Piano.
Although relatively short and under ten minutes in length, the piece was perfect for a professional provincial choir. All 54 members of the Edgecumbe Choir and Conductor Tony Hogg rose to the occasion on Sunday, and gave this piece a performance well worth its inaugural outing. I do hope that other choirs can embark on a similar undertaking, and provide such additions to the New Zealandrepertoire available for choirs. Full marks for a brave and generous undertaking.
“The Armed Man – A Mass for Peace” by Karl Jenkins provided the second part of the concert programme. This piece received its world première in April 2000 atLondon's Royal Albert Hall in a moving performance.
Sunday’s performance was just as stirring. The Mass is a very poignant work, dramatic, with beautiful melodies. It is a modern piece yet the inclusion of the traditional elements of the Latin Mass – The Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and Benedictus seem to cleanse the very loud and frightening percussion segments.
This mass is an emotional journey, its use of various languages and the inclusion of a Muslim call to prayer makes it truly international. Fear, pride, anguish, sadness, heroism, passion, tragedy, pain and despair have no borders.
One has feelings of “where have I heard this before?” The music elicits those feelings we have from the ever increasing documentaries of human warfare and misery, providing the sombre and sorrowful setting associated with the all too present scenes the mass media delivers to us in our lounges.
The choir was stunning as were the accompanists. The planned cello player was on Friday unavailable, a potential disaster, yet the two last minute stand-ins, Eddie King and Tamsen Kreynberg were outstanding with their sympathy to the piece, their precision and feeling.
The accompanying musicians supporting the choir deserve a special mention. Christine Martin for the excellent execution of the very difficult and beautiful piccolo solo. The percussionists, Alexa Halvorsen, Ian Wilson and Vince Clark, for providing moments which regularly lifted the people in front of us out of their seats. Our own Sandy Herewini and Maurice Reid who trumpet playing was flawless and exactly suited the tone of the mass. Maurice’s rendition of the Last Post was especially poignant. Olga Stancliff on the piano and Anne Cleaver on the organ completed the ensemble beautifully.
All nine members of the orchestra made this a truly moving performance.
The physical staging of the choir and their location in the Church of St George and St John has undergone a change. I like the result. A newly erected wall behind the choir acts to focus their voice more to the audience and to provide a richer timbre.
I am full of praise for the choir, conductor Tony Hogg and the accompanists. This was a brave undertaking and all who attended were well rewarded.
Posted by Tony Hogg on 11 Dec 2007
Promoted as a stroll down the memory lane of the Edgecumbe Choir, this was more of a carefully planned tour of the Choir and its antics over the past 50 years. This performance marked the Choir’s 50th birthday concert and much of the chosen repertoire marked significant pieces performed by the choir since 1957.
The evening opened quietly with choir and tenor singing the Epilogue from Thiman’s ‘Nativity’, gathered spirit and strength moving through “On the way toJerusalem” and “With a Voice of Singing”. By the time they had reached Vivaldi’s “Gloria” they were up to strength and in full stride. The Gloria is very much old territory for the Choir, being first performed under the baton of conductor Ken Macdonald in 1974 and among the choir’s twenty most performed pieces during its history. The Sanctus from Faure’s Requiem was where the Choir really started to shine. A choir of 65 members can produce considerable volume and dynamic contrast which was evident with this very popular piece, well supported by the power from the organ accompaniment of Walter Barnes.
Contrasting the previous selection was a set of three virtually unaccompanied English folk songs from Ralph Vaughan Williams. Vaughan Williams was devoted to collecting and studying English folksongs to conserve them for the future and this evening the choir carried his work to the provinces of a land far from its origin. Their treatment was just wonderful, clean, unaffected and with a lyrical purity that transported the audience to the country of the song’s origin.
Bobby Shafto, MP for Durham in 1760, is the character behind the Choir’s next choice and is the now famous song (of his name) he used for electioneering purposes. The choir gave this a lively and spirited treatment, set to a perfect accompaniment from pianist Olga Stancliff. Warmed up and limber, the choir joined with the piano to become one instrument.
The Mendelssohn pieces – ‘Hear my Prayer’ and ‘But the Lord’ are pieces well known by the choir and performed on many occasions during the past 50 years. Hear my Prayer particularly received an excellent treatment by the Choir, soloist Charles Sorenssen and conductor with the audience transfixed.
The first half of the evening finished with two more recent pieces – an arrangement of the Lennon and McCartney piece ‘Yesterday’ finishing with the Te Rangi Pai classic – ‘Hine e Hine’. This heart warming piece firmly rooted the choir in its New Zealand setting, and would have stirred subconscious images in the audience of familiar end to evenings of a bygone era.
The second half of the evening was a mixture of the old and the new. Zadok the Priest (Handel) and the very patriotic ‘Jerusalem’ (with audience participation) were particularly stirring. The choir’s rendition of ‘Deep River” was, to use the vernacular, “cool” and ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ had all the razzmatazz of a American Southern State procession.
I wish to comment however on two other selections. ‘All I ask of You’ from the Phantom and the medley from ‘Les Miserable’s’. A demonstrative hush came over the audience when these pieces were performed, heads nodded in time to the tempo and one could feel the human emotion in the audience that these pieces evoke. Two young members of the Choir - Anna Simpson and Julia Walmsley gave superb renditions which stole the audience’s hearts. Full marks to these two, the choir and to the ever capable soloist Charles Sorensson who stood in at the last moment to cover for Robert van Dijk who was indisposed. Despite being rather recent pieces the audience was enamoured with them and I am sure these compositions will be performed in decades to come by choirs such as this because of the absolute strength of their melodies and lyrics.
Conductor Tony Hogg was a busy man during the evening. Not only did he conduct, which was done flawlessly, he also interspersed his conducting with acknowledgment to previous conductors, especially Ken MacDonald the founding musical director and conductor whose directorship spanned 30 years, and the late Valerie Milne who held the baton for ten years. He also announced the winner to the Choir’s Golden Jubilee Logo Competition - Kylie Baker – with her clean, simple design, and the results of the Edgecumbe Choir's Golden Jubilee Choral Composition competition. The winner – Andrew Baldwin from Hataitai,Wellington, will have his composition performed at the Choir’s end of year performance. Acknowledgement must go to local private charitable trusts for their generous sponsorship of these two competitions.
This concert was not just a tribute to the past choristers and conductors of the Edgecumbe Choir, but indeed a tribute to all those current serving members who tonight showed just why the choir has endured a history spanning five decades. Several previous members of the choir – having left the district and now returned, have taken up their places again in the ranks which shows how dedicated all these singers are.
Through earthquakes and floods, storms and power cuts the choir endures.
Although playing to a largely mature audience, there were members present who may well still be there in fifty years time when I am sure audiences will enjoy the choir celebrating its 100th birthday.
Posted by Tony Hogg on 12 June 2007
"TIS the season to be jolly". The words of the traditional carol seem the most appropriate to usher in Whakatane's festive season as Christmas arrived in the town three times over on Saturday. We had the Santa float parade, the open-air Christmas in the Park and the third celebration was the Edgecumbe Choir's Christmas Fantasia held at the Church of St George & St John on Saturday and Sunday.
Lovers of fine music, loyal fans of this fine choir, and people who just like a good Christmas sing-along were all catered for in fine style by this concert of Christmas carol favourites, conducted with customary energy by Tony Hogg.
The large audience was treated to a range of styles, with carols from Poland, Germany, France, England, Afro-America, and New Zealand. Composers and arrangers provided a varied selection of styles, with the concert featuring the always appealing sounds in Bach Oratorio excerpts. The tenor solo parts were expressively sung by Charles Sorensson, ably supported by the sustained and full harmonies of the choir.
It was noticeable from the opening chorus how well-balanced and full-bodied the choir was sounding; the very strong tenor and bass sections would be the envy of many a city choir. It is a credit to the energy and enthusiasm of conductor, Tony Hogg and president, Warner Haldane that this accomplished ensemble has such a strong and consistent membership which has allowed them to present some very ambitious works.
For this reviewer, the highlights were the Bach Oratorio solos and choruses, and the Vaughan Williams Fantasia, incorporating four contrasting carols. The Vaughan Williams appealed as much for its accompaniment as to the choral work; the expressive pianist Margaret Murray blended her piano line with the organ part ably played by Walter Barnes. Both accompanists added much to the whole performance.
An exciting experience for the choir was to present a "first performance" ofThe Shepherds Carol by Rotorua composer Sharon, Roberts-Good, and a second carol by this composer, the unaccompanied Ring the Bells, TheChristmas Bells. The choral parts of the latter cleverly created the timbre of pealing bells.
Another welcome surprise for the audience was the launching of the new book All We Like Sheep, a 50-year history of the choir, by Pam Greenhalgh herself an active member of the group. Whakatane Mayor Colin Holmes introduced the book and the author while complimenting the choir on its continuing reputation in musical circle, near and far. It seemed a fitting way to introduce the choir's 50th anniversary celebrations next year.
The mood of the concert - and of the large and enthusiastic audience - was best summed up in the closing carol, We Wish You A Merry Christmas. This jolly arrangement of the traditional West Country carol was sung with a lively full – throated sound which typified the best of Christmas Fantasia.
Published in Whakatane Beacon on 6 December, 2006
This would have to be the finest performance from the Edgecumbe Choir I have heard.
The term choir has come to loosely describe a musical ensemble of singers, however it origins were more ecclesiastical in nature. Originally the choir was the area of the church reserved for the clergy or religious for their communal prayer group. It evolved somewhat to become a chorus that sings as part of a religious ceremony. Many Cathedrals and Churches in England and Europe continue with this tradition.
Such was their quality and impact on Sunday that the Edgecumbe Choir could have held their own on any world stage and been quite at home in any English Cathedral. Anyone passing by the Church of St George and St John on Sunday afternoon could easily be forgiven for thinking they were in England given the quality and strength of music emanating from the church.
The evening opened with “And there were Shepherds” from the Christmas Oratorio No 11 by JS Bach. Mr Bach featured off and on during the concert with pieces from his Christmas Oratorios No. 12, 5, 9, 16 and 17. This was a good move to limit his presence to selections only. The selections were short and of a more lively nature. A Christmas concert should be lively and to have performed the pieces in their entirety would have become tedious.
Three New Zealand carols were tackled by the Choir. The Pohutukawa Carol, written by the late Douglas Mews Snr, was the first. It was delivered with meticulous control with the full choir delivering a fine performance. The next two, ‘Ring The Bells’ and ‘The Shepherds Carol’ by Rotorua composer Sharon Roberts-Good have never been performed anywhere else so this was indeed a coup by organiser Warner Haldane. And to add to the occasion the composer herself attended the Saturday night performance. The timing of these two pieces (along with the Vaughn Williams Fantasia on Christmas Carols) is quite tricky, yet the choir didn’t miss a beat and this high standard continued right through the two hour concert.
Although “Ring the Bells” is a from a modern New Zealand Composer it’s sound is reminiscent of plainsong, the simple and unadorned melody confined to monastic orders. It was lovely and I’m sure has whetted the audiences appetite to hear more and for the choir to perform more works from this New Zealand Composer.
Local tenor Charles Sorensson was the lone soloist with the choir. ‘Bel canto’ means, most literally, "beautiful singing and this very aptly describes Charles’s style. Light, bright and charming, he delighted the audiences with his effortless approach and clear tone. His “Mary’s Boy Child” and “Oh Holy Night” with the choir in unison were simply beautiful. These two Carols are particularly appealing simply by the virtue of their simple melody.
The programme catered for any singers in the audience and the programme included the words to five carols with an invitation to the audience to join in. Four of the carols were standards - ‘While Shepherds watched’, ‘Angels from the realms of glory’, ‘Hark the Herald Angel’ and ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ – these were lapped up by the audience with full participation. And to test the audience a lesser known carol, ‘See Amid the Winters Snow’ was presented by the choir with audience assistance.
Conductor Tony Hogg took time during the performance to add footnotes to some of the items presented. He also talked of the history of the Choir and its current exploits. The Choir celebrates its 5Oth anniversary in 2007 and to mark that Golden anniversary has announced a Choral Composition Competition (with an award of $5000) inviting New Zealand Composers to write a piece especially for the Edgecumbe Choir. He also acknowledged the work of local resident Pam Greenhalgh, who has written a history of the Edgecumbe Choir called “All We Like Sheep” which has been published and was launched at the concert.
Tony Hogg, the Choir, accompanists Walter Barnes on pipe organ and Margaret Murray on piano deserve full marks. Not surprisingly full houses were at both performances, a reflection of the audience’s faith in what they have come to expect from the choir. We are blessed to have such talent, alive, thriving and well supported in our community.
This was an amazingly polished performance from the Edgecumbe Choir. Their talent and commitment on Saturday and Sunday provided a rare escape from the outside world and those who did not attend missed a truly memorable experience.
Published in Eastern Bay News on 7 December, 2006
Eastern Bay of Plenty readers of The Eastern Bay News may have read the "Opera Plus" review written by Gemini. Editorial changes to the review left a sour taste for the reviewer particularly the editor's cutting out virtually any reference to the choir's part in this exciting concert and, to rub salt in the wound, what it did include was totally incorrect. At least the EBN did put something in. The Whakatane Beacon at the time of writing hasn't even ackowledged the concert. So much for quality community newspapers.
Below is the uncut version of the EBN review.
"Not content to rehash more of the same, the Edgecumbe Choir continues to look at new and varied formats for the concerts it performs to its Eastern Bay of Plenty audiences. There is a gamble with this however – provincial audiences do like the “tried and true” and one can sense a certain reluctance to engage in the esoteric or unfamiliar offerings that might be seen in a larger metropolitan setting.
On this occasion the choice of the familiar proved to be a winner – a wide selection from the popular German, Italian and French repertoire that has become almost synonymous with opera, interspersed with a sprinkling of lesser known but nevertheless well enjoyed offerings pleased those that attended the two performances. In many respects this was musically an “Opera in the Park” undertaking in magnitude but scaled to an “Opera in the Indoors” setting.
Any organiser’s nightmare must be the thought of a soloist becoming indisposed at the last minute. The realisation of this was the unavailability at the last minute of Bass Ian Campbell. At short notice Brian McKay stepped in, debuting with Charles Sorensson in Bizet’s “Au fond du temple saint” from the Pearl Fishers. The audience certainly sat up and took notice of Brian McKay’s entrance – his deep powerful bass provided the perfect balance to the lyric tenor of Charles Sorensson. These two worked very well together. Although not profiled in the programme, Charles Sorensson had a full programme with really quite strenuous pieces. He rose to the occasion. “Una furtiva lagrima” from Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore and “E Lucevan le stele” from Puccini’s Tosca were audience favourites – melodic, emotional, dramatic and touching. Brian McKay’s rendition of the Toreadors song from Carmen was commanding and especially popular with the audience.
The female soloists were a delight. Soprano Fiona Ferens was ideally suited to the pieces she performed and brought to the stage an elegance of voice and presence. Her deliveries of Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum” and “Vilia” from The Merry Widow were just magical. As was her lead in the Nuns Chorus. It is some time since Fiona Ferens sung with the Edgecumbe Choir and her return was most welcome. Contralto Patricia Wackrow gave an impressive performance that started with “Softly awakes my Heart” from Saint-Saens’ “Samson and Delilah” This is a heart rendering song, that was sung full of passion and love. Patricia is a regular with the Edgecumbe Choir, a sophisticated singer with control and power in an unforced performance. The combination of the two female soloists in the Duet from Delibes’ “Lakme” was a real highlight for the audience.
Some of the quieter and slower pieces were quite taxing for the Choir – the “Priest’s Chorus” for Tenors and Basses from Mozart’s “Magic Flute” and the “Pilgrims Chorus” from Wagner’s Tannhauser did have the choir appear a little bewildered at times, ditto with the middle section of Faure’s “Pavane”. Contrasting this though were the very powerful performances from the choir – Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus, Verdi’s “Va Pensiero”, Mascagni’s “Easter Hymn” and the “Triumphal March” from Aida showed just what the choir was capable of. (The triumphal March was indeed “Triumphal” with a very rousing trumpet section by Maurice Reid, wonderfully timed and played).
The choir had wonderful accompanists. The combination of organist Walter Barnes and pianist Tama Karena provided a musical contrast of the delicate and the grand. This was most evident in the Bridal Chorus from Wagner’s Lohengrin. The familiar deep bass chords from the organ, with the lively little pieces from the piano came together beautifully with the choir. The use of the organ was just superb supporting the Soprano and female chorus in the Nun’s chorus as was the lively use of the piano in the Toreadors song from Carmen. While not profiled in the programme Walter Barnes is well known to local audiences having held musical positions at various schools and his involvement with local theatre. Although this was Tama Karena’s first performance with the Edgecumbe choir, he is known locally playing at the Opotiki Silent Film Festival and internationally at the La Giornate Del Cinema Muto in Italy. I do hope audiences sees more of these two working together with the choir in the future.
Nessum Dorma from Puccini’s opera Turandot when done well is a crowd pleaser – an aria that inspires feelings of patriotism and uplifting grandness (an association conditioned in us perhaps by its use as an “anthem” in a past major world sporting event). It is vocally difficult, and because of its now ubiquitous presence any renditions are open to obvious comparison. Conductor, Tony Hogg, took a risk in surprising the audience with this piece as an unprogrammed encore. For the choir and soloists this was their triumph. Sung by Charles Sorensen and with a finale of all the soloists and choir, this aria closed the performance, leaving the audience feeling movingly uplifted, proud and well satisfied.
Conductor Tony Hogg, the Edgecumbe Choir and soloists delivered an excellent concert. Let us hope we see them all work together again in further performances."
Posted by Tony Hogg on 4 August 2006