Soprano: Andrea Haines, Emily Dickens
Countertenor: Christopher Wardle, Barnaby Smith
Tenor: Sam Dressel, Oliver Vincent
Baritone: Paul Smith & Bass: Dingle Yandell
Both events were sold out. Music lovers and music makers from across Devon rushed to the church for the afternoon's two hour workshop. Voces8 Musical Director, Barnaby Smith, demonstrated professional warm-up and rehearsal techniques, and let the students in on some of the secrets of creating the perfect balance of sound from a polyphonic choir. The other choir members demonstrated enthusiastically, and answered many interesting questions about choral music. They also directed the students, in four sections, to produce beautiful music of their own.
In the evening the church was equally packed, with many of the students from the workshop joining the capacity audience. The extra seats at the front of the nave were at a premium for a close-up experience of the choir, and the perfect acoustic rendering of their music.
and sensational harmonies
"Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes" (Psalm 19, The heavens are telling the glory of the Lord) by Heinrich Schütz predated Bach's version by nearly a century. This very early experiment in Italian opera-style a cappella singing corresponded to the orchestral version, with the different voices taking the parts of the instruments. After a brief introduction, the choir burst forth with full force in a spectacular and impressive symphony with every voice shining out both individually and in concert - just as advertised.
Baritone Paul Smith then took things in a different and unexpected direction with a wartime jazz number by Nat King Cole. Paul playfully introduced all the choir members in turn (starting with Dingle), in the style of the wonderful Viv Stanshall. Each singer was welcomed by the audience with whoops and wild applause. They each responded with a skilful exposition of scat singing building a wall of sound.
|Sam Dressel sings "I've got the world on a string"|
accompanied on 'double bass' by Dingle Yardell
Tenor, Sam Dressel, who had delighted the workshop students with his version of "Twist and Shout" in the afternoon, now sang a very special solo for the evening audience. Harold Arlen's Cotton Club Parade number, "I've got the world on a string". The choir members broke with choral tradition by walking and singing, mingling like friends at a cocktail party - and mingling their voices perfectly. Dingle took the voice/instrument cross-over to a new level, playing an invisible double bass while providing a scat soundtrack. His antics were endlessly fascinating, and the sound delightful.
|Solo Tenor: Oliver Vincent|
Barnaby Smith took us back to a more sombre and sacred mood with choruses from two transcendent twentieth century "All Night Vigils". The first was Sir John Tavener's anthem "Mother of God here I stand" (setting the words of Mikhail Lermontov) from his oecumenical masterpiece, "The Veil of the Temple". During the seven hour performance this anthem is repeated many times, with ever-rising pitch. The choir chose a 'sensible' key, and repaired to the alter for a more distant and mysterious sound.
a moment for reflection
The first half closed with another visit to the exciting world of Italian renaissance polyphony. From Russian, the choir switched adroitly to Latin for Giovanni Gabrielli's grand motet, "Jubilate Deo". Andrea Haines and Emily Dickens opened with a celestial soprano duet, for the extreme left and right of the stage. The men ranged between them with the tenors in the centre, a perfect set-up for the waves of corruscating sound rising and falling gently between the different voices - which sometimes sounded impossibly as if they came from more than eight people. Alternately celebratory and mournful, the music was perfect to send the audience away wanting more.
While the choir rested, Alex invited the audience to help themselves to free wine and soft drinks. The audience was so large that two bars were needed, one at each end of the church. Even then the queues took quite a time to get to the goodies, while everyone marvelled at the music they had just enjoyed.
|Soprano Duet: "Fire! Fire!"|
Emily Dickens & Andrea Haines
with Sam Dressel,
Barnaby Smith & Dingle Yardell
Emily Dickens and Andrea Haines provided another sweet soprano duet, and it did not go unnoticed that during the interval they had changed into the two new outfits. The men still sported the same stylish royal blue whistles and winkle-pickers - a very impressive look.
Oliver Vincent gave a little background on Ola Gjeilo, and the exciting news that Ola has agreed to become the 'composer in residence' for Voces8.
The soft opening canon by the sopranos led into a caressing quartet in collaboration with the countertenors. Without increasing the volume or force, the full choir joined in with their ululating echo. The move from "Were you there?" to "Underneath the stars" was almost imperceptible, starting with Emily Dickens' opening solo "O go gently" against the melting harmonies of the men. A very special surprise was the complementary bass solo by Dingle Yandell. The evocation of a starlit night, and the promise and disappointment of love, were expounded with crystal clarity by the clearly distinguished and diametrically opposed voices of soprano and bass.
|Solo Soprano: Andrea Haines|
with Christopher Wardle,
Sam Dressel & Dingle Yardell
'the gossiping women'
Paul explained that Morley's "Fire! Fire!" was somewhat risqué (being about the 'fire' of love). At some time in the past, the more inflammatory words have been replaced by the mediaeval equivalent of 'expletive deleted' - the nonsense sounds "Fa-la-la".
Armed with this knowledge, the audience were highly amused to discover that nearly all of the song had been converted to "Fa-la-la", including the drawn out final words - whatever they had been!
"Fire! Fire!" was a song for two sopranos with just one each of tenor, countertenor and bass - Sam, Barnaby and Dingle.
Solo Soprano: Andrea Haines
with Christopher Wardle,
Sam Dressel & Dingle Yardell
'the clucking chickens'
As the concert progressed, the programme slipped gently off-piste. Oliver Vincent started a systematic deviation from the script, which continued for the remainder of the concert. He returned to the programme of the first half, and the promised Jimmy Van Heusen number (arranged by regular Voces8 contributor Jim Clements), "Ain't that a kick in the head". In this tenor showcase, Oliver was Dean Martin opposite Sam Dressel's Frank Sinatra. In a fitting tribute to 'Old Blue Eyes' and 'The Rat Pack', the choir provided a six-piece orchestra to embellish Oliver and Sam's syncopated crooning.
|Oliver Vincent: "Mrs Robinson"|
|"I won't dance!"|
Emily Dickens & Sam Dressel
are Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire
Dingle gave the last introduction - with a brief plug for the choir website and facebook page. Their last song was a peach, an arrangement for the Swingle Singers, by Ben Parry, of Duke Ellington's "Don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing." This fabulous collection of variations, delivered with huge energy and inventiveness, took the concert across the finishing line in top gear.
Called back to the stage by a delighted audience, Barnaby reassured us all that Voces8 will be back in the West Country again soon. Look out for them in the Milton Abbey Festival (Blandford Forum in Dorset, Monday 27 July - Sunday 2 August).
Emily Dickens is 'The Queen of the Night'
Just to polish off the evening, Voces8 took to the stage one last time for a medley of opera arias and choruses, an opportunity for each singer to show off their exceptional skills one last time. Skipping between operas with ease, the choir kept the pace going, and impressed us with each 'turn'. However, one extract threatened to stop the show, "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" (The fury of hell boils in my heart) from Mozart's "Magic Flute". This comic pastiche for coloratura went once again to soprano, Emily Dickens.
Alex West was warm in his praise of the visiting musicians, described by St Michael's incumbent, Father Tom Honey, as the climax of the concert series (with no disrespect to the other artists). The entire audience agreed, and showed their sincere gratitude to the church committee for arranging such an auspicious event and ensuring such a good audience - and to Voces8 for a first class evening of music.
Many thanks to all involved.