Soprano soloist Elizabeth Mandeno, Alto soloist Laura Funaki seated right. Basses in background.



10 December 2023 - G.F. Handel's Messiah

Harmonious Hallelujahs

Review of G.F. Handel’s Messiah, 10 December 2023

By Kirstine Moffat


The impressive performance of Handel’s Messiah on 10 December by the Edgecumbe Choir is testament of the power of music to uplift and transport. The Church of St George and St John was packed for this sold-out concert, and beautifully decorated with a nativity scene, shining star above the choir, and Christmas-coloured floral display. A standing ovation at the end was a fitting tribute to a performance that moved many to tears and led one audience member behind me to declare that they had been ‘visited by the music of angels’.

            A good choir is a symbol of the unity that is possible through diversity. Each part of the choir — soprano, alto, tenor, bass —has their unique part to sing, but these parts come together in glorious four-part harmony. Balance between these parts is crucial, as is impeccable timing, and the Edgecumbe Choir achieved this on Sunday. 

            Conductor Chalium Poppy is at the heart of this achievement. He conducts with controlled flamboyance, using the full extent of his arms to demand decisive entries and precise stops and to conjure dynamic surges and falls. Under his instruction, both choir and soloists sang crisply and articulated clearly. This is vital in an oratorio such as The Messiah, where the power of the work comes from a combination of music and narrative. The audience need to be able to hear and understand the words as they follow Christ’s journey from the joyful promise of birth, to the tragedy of the crucifixion, to the triumph of the resurrection.

            The Messiah is a beloved work, and the challenge is to both honour musical tradition and bring something fresh to something so well-known. The sprightly pace of the performance by the Edgecumbe Choir ensured that there was a sense of driving, forward momentum. One of the most surprising and satisfying moments came with the famous ‘Hallelujah Chorus’. In contrast to many performances, which sing this at full pitch, the Edgecumbe Choir were more nuanced, the ‘hallelujahs’ ranging from delicate softness to full-throated fountains of sound. This not only gave the chorus texture and depth but left the choir somewhere to go. Part Three of the oratorio follows this chorus and the choir continued to rise throughout, ending with a rousing rendition of ‘Worthy is the Lamb’.

            The final ‘Amen’ kept the high emotion alive, starting with the interweaving counterpoint of the soloists singing softly and then swelling as the choir joined in. Another key feature of Chalium Poppy’s direction is the effective use of the pause, and this was showcased at the end. The silence before the final ‘amen’ lingered and then was pieced by the choir in full voice, producing a climax that was both powerful and moving.

            It was not only in the joyful final parts of the oratorio that the choir was at its best. The sequence of choruses in Part Two were also a standout. The cruellest moments of the story — ‘And with His Stripes’, ‘And we, like Sheep’, and ‘He Trusted in God’ — were sung with verve and pace, hammering home Christ’s terror and the complicity of humanity in his suffering. This highlighted the wonderful paradox of great music to both terrify and comfort simultaneously. In this moment of pain the music is so transcendent that it foreshadows what is to come and reassures the audience that this is not the end.

The lead up to the concert was not without drama, the baritone soloist James Roberson unable to perform because of a positive Covid test. An announcement at the beginning of the concert promised accurately that there was a ‘ring-in who would not disappoint’. In a musical tour-de-force, conductor Calium Poppy sang the bass recitatives and airs with great emotional contrast. The resonant timbre of his voice filled the church, and his deep knowledge of the music allowed him to liberate himself from the score and look at the audience as he sung. This created a very intimate bond with the singer. By lingering over key words, such as ‘darkness’ and ‘light’ in ‘The People that walked in Darkness’ the full pathos of this early air was underscored. Later, ‘The Trumpet shall sound’ carried the audience to a place of relief and jubilation.

Alto soloist Laura Funaki likewise sang with impeccable modulation and dynamic range. Her pure, bell-like voice was perfect for this work, and she sang throughout with tenderness and compassion. The haunting ‘He was Despised’ is such a challenging solo requiring great control and Laura Funaki achieved this splendidly. The slower pace of this heartbreaking air allowed her to linger over the key word ‘sorrow’ in the first part of the piece. Speeding up for the middle section, the volume increased, with ‘shame’ and ‘spitting’ clipped and raw.

Given that the tenor’s recitative and solo follow the overture, the quality of this soloist is so important. Taylor Wallbank did not disappoint, commanding attention with his rich, full voice and commanding presence. The slower, poignant plea to ‘Comfort ye my People’ was succeeded by the jubilant ‘Every Valley shall be exalted’ and he showed equal range and control throughout. Soprano Elizabeth Mandeno likewise has a powerful voice capable of hitting and holding the top notes. The solo ‘I know, that my Redeemer liveth’ was a highlight. Beautifully modulated, this performance began gently and gradually rose to the jubilant conviction of ‘For now is Christ risen’.

The success of the performance was due in no small part to the sensitive playing of organist Dr John Wells. In complete command of the instrument, Dr Wells opened the concert with the majestic and resonant overture. Yet he also knew when to pull back and provide the unobtrusive but vital foundation for the singers. This is the mark of a master musician who places the needs of the music ahead of the desire for display and was a key factor in the well-balanced sound.

This was a concert in which everyone gave their all, singing, playing, and conducting with complete commitment and passion. It was both a musical triumph and a performance unafraid of emotion, carrying the audience from joy, to sorrow, to the final hope.





16 & 17 September 2023 -

J.S.Bach Magnificat and F.J. Haydn Mass in G Major, The St Nicholas Mass



Following a tough year for choirs in 2022 due to Covid-19 circulating, I was priveleged to attend Edgecumbe Choir’s concert in Whakatane on the weekend.  


Choirmaster and conductor Chalium Poppy’s energy galvanised the enthusiasm of the choir who honoured the music with the dynamic range it deserved. The choir was well-balanced and disciplined.  The Bach in particular is quite challenging music - confidence and nimbleness are required to navigate some of the abrupt changes in tone and timing.  There were only one or two discernable minor flaws, for example, the ‘Fecit potentiam’ in the Bach Magnificat seemed ever so slightly tentative but did not detract from the overall quality of the performance.  Having been a member of many choirs and attended many choral concerts,  it is a testament to the Edgecumbe Choir that they did by no means contrast unfavourably compared to their excellent guest soloists. 


Although they are classically trained and all have solo singing experience to varying extents, none of the soloists are career professional singers - but you would never have known.  Soprano Regan McFarlane, Alto Laura Funaki, Tenor Jeandre Le Roux and Bass Henry Shum individually showcased their skills of control and phrasing along with the loveliness of each of their voices.   As an ensemble they proved to be an inspired choice, evidenced by the sublime beauty of their duets, trios and quartets, especially in the Haydn Mass.  I eagerly anticipate hearing each of them, separately or together, in future.  


This is the first time I have heard Jeremy Woodside who ably accompanied on the organ.  It took little imagination to hear that he could no doubt also deliver an excellent solo performance.  He is a hero for having lightning reflexes to save a pedal note malfunction from ruining the very end of the concert!


The performance was experimentally scheduled for a Saturday afternoon after disappointing evening  audience at the previous concert’s Saturday night in comparison to the Sunday afternoon numbers.  However, whether due to the lovely sunny weather or not, it was a shame there was not a bigger audience for this highly enjoyable concert.  

Tracy Dixon



Choir performance a listening experience EXQUISITE, moving, spine tingling, uplifting, entertaining, amazing.These are just a few adjectives to describe Edgecumbe Choir’s performance of JS Bach’s Magnificat and EJ Hayden’s Mass in G Major, The St. Nicholas Mass that I attended on Sunday afternoon at the Church of St. George and St John along with a nearly full capacity audience.

I am not a musician or even musical. I am a lover of music, all kinds of music, and I absolutely loved the whole listening experience.To reach that standard of delivery requires such a huge level of commitment, talent and hours and hours of practice. I take my hat off to all who were involved in bringing this sublime music to our ears.There were moments that brought tears to my eyes with the beauty of their voices. I was not the only member of the audience who felt they had been privileged

to listen to performers of such a high calibre, led by the internationally acclaimed musical director Chalium Poppy. I was sitting there thinking how absolutely incredible that our wee town has such a choir and that soloists and accompanists come from afar, recognising the high standard of performance that is achieved.The soloists and the organist were superb. It was sad to hear there were only about 35 people in the audience on Saturday. People, we must not be complacent and take this incredible choir for granted. If you have never attended a classical music performance, I strongly

encourage you to do it once in your life. You might just be surprised. You don’t need to be a music buff to appreciate talent and beautiful singing. So, I say thank you to all the choir members, the soloists and the people behind the scenes who put in so muchtime and gave us such a delightful

experience. I’m looking forward to the next concert on December 10. Come and be transported, uplifted and amazed by the talent we have in our community.


Christine Larsen (Whakatane Beacon September 22nd 2023)








10 & 11 June  2023 -

Haydn’s Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross and Mozart’s Mass in C Major K220 




(Katrina McChesney review)


The Edgecumbe Choir’s programming for 2022 was sadly overtaken by the COVID pandemic, but on June 10th and 11th 2023, Whakatāne audiences were in for a treat.The choir returned with impressive performances of both Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross and Mozart’s Mass in C Major K220 (‘Sparrow’),conducted by Chalium Poppy and accompanied by Michael Bell.


The Seven Last Words is filled with tension and pathos, presenting evocative reflections on the final hours of Christ’s suffering on the cross. Sometimes anguished, sometimes unspeakably beautiful in its sadness and clarity, this is music that calls for expression, sensitivity, and understanding. The choir delivered beautifully, showing mastery of the complex music and the challenging German text. We heard strong, despairing cries –Vater! (Father!) in the first choral movement; tight, well-shaped phrases that rose and fell dramatically; and cascading waterfalls of sound as each part of the choir asked Mein Gott! Warum hast du mich verlassen? (My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?). 


The Edgecumbe Choir rose admirably to the challenges this work presents. While some of the dramatic choral entrances on diminished chords were not always precisely tuned, within moments the voices came together securely as the line progressed. The biggest hurdle seemed to be aligning the timing for portions of Ach, mich dürstet! (Oh, I thirst!) and Vater, in deine Hände empfehle ich meinen Geist(Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit), asthe organ stormed and swirled beneath the busy,entangled choral lines. There was intense engagement between singers and conductor; this was not some casual community sing but rather a focused and disciplined quest to give this ambitious and meaningful music its due.


The choir was joined by soloists Regan McFarlane (soprano), Charlotte McDonald (alto), Taylor Wallbank (tenor), and Aidan Phillips (baritone). All four brought stunning, clear, and sensitive voices and sang accurately and expressively.The intonation across the four solo voices was not always perfectly coherent, especially in the homophonic openings of the choral movements. The still, perfectly balancedquartet that openedIn deine Hände(Into thy hands), however, was sublime.

Haydn’s final, dramatic Il terremoto (Earthquake) movement depicts the veil of the Temple being torn in two and the very rocks crying out as Christ breathes his last. Despite the preceding seven movements’ demands, all were alert and ready for the abrupt and explosive beginning. Occasionally,I found myself wanting more –more strength, more volume, more intensity –but then the choir dug deep and delivered just that.


At intermission, audience members expressed enormous delight and admiration for the performance they had just enjoyed; shortly thereafter, the choir returned for quite a different work: Mozart’s lively ‘Sparrow’s Mass’ (so named for the bird-like figures heard within the accompaniment). The choir brought fresh energy, enthusiasm, and visible enjoyment to their performance of this work. Mozart’s rhythmic, joyful writing came alive;the choir embraced the many syncopations and brought the audience as near to dancing in church as one can feel comfortable being! The choir ‘let go’ somewhat as they bounced through the more jubilant passages, with tone suffering ccasionally as a result, yet such moments were more than offset by the beautiful and expressive singing in the Benedictus and the Miserere Nobis portion of the Agnus Dei.


Michael Bell consistently provided accurate, agile and creative organ accompaniment, and it was a delight to watch his flying fingers (and feet!) and to marvel at his almost continual changes of voicing. The church’s small but pleasing instrument was likely being worked to capacity. Conductor Chalium Poppy worked immensely hard shaping every moment of the performance, and his skill and investment in this choir over recent years shone through in the choir’s increasingly polished sound.


The choir looked stunning, wearing for the first time their custom-made cream, gold, and black stoles (for the women) and matching pocket squares (for the men). These elegant elements united the group, caught the eye, and reinforced the sense that these performances were primarily the choir’s triumph, with the soloists present in support. The choir, their guest performers, and the community of Whakatāne can be very proud of the talent and hard work that these performances displayed.