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.  


Both works asked a lot of the choristers, especially with the noticeably smaller-than-usual numbers and, generally, singers appeared to have an obvious need to follow their music rather than focusing on conductor, Tony Hogg, as he led them through some quite complex movements. Those choristers who did perform are winners, and will have gained not only from the experience of working on these two difficult compositions but also     through listening, watching and learning as they shared the stage with the four talented guest soloists. 


Rutter's Magnificat is the expression of a long-standing Christian tradition of writing a composer's own personal version of this beautiful prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary ; Rutter himself described it as “A poetic outpouring of praise, joy and trust in God ascribed by Luke to the Virgin Mary on learning that she was to give birth to Christ”.


In the Magnificat, guest soprano June Dam joined the Choir in the fourth and sixth movements, as written, and then again in an unexpected and welcome inclusion in the seventh, performing with warmth, sincerity and considerable talent; hers is a young voice which lifted the whole performance impressively.  


Bruckner's Te Deum, on the day, suffered by comparison with Rutter's composition,  as Bruckner's style seemed formal and almost pedantic but, to the choristers, soloists and instrumentalists credit, they brought appreciable character and life to the five movements. 


Bruckner's score also brought in all four guest soloists providing good passages for both soprano and tenor voices - June Dam again and introducing the audience to the young Felipe Manu, two quite exciting talents. Unfortunately, the score gave almost secondary work to young mezzo soprano Cecily Shaw and bass Jarvis Dam, leaving the audience with an unfilled need to hear more of them.  All four looked the part, formally dressed for the occasion, women in long fashionable gowns and men in smart suits, the guests complementing conductor Tony Hogg's dinner suit.


Considerable praise and acknowledgement must be given to the two instrumentalists, guest organist Michael Bell and the fairfull Olga Stancliff. Their contributions supported the singers – both choir and soloists, and lifted them extraordinarily well. Bell had the church organ not only accompanying the singers but almost articulating the lyrics for them, too.  Stancliff's piano must have greatly helped choristers consistently find the right note. 


Presenting the Magnificat and the Te Deum on the same programme, two difficult and complex works, was not - from the perspectives of both the smaller choir and smaller audiences, a particularly successful decision. The Edgecumbe Choir is a 'commuity' choir with a number of choristers unable to read music and, while challenges are usually good for growth, two major challenges in the one programme seemed to be a little too much. 


Leonie and Peter McRae.