REVIEW: Opus Ensemble and Scholars Aotearoa ‘Gloria’

Scholars Baroque Aotearoa with an Opus Ensemble

St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Mount Maunganui

Sat 25 / Sun 26 May, 2019

If any reader should be of the opinion that church music from the late 17th to early 18th centuries should be reserved for po-faced old fogies you would almost certainly have a change of mind had you heard the Scholars Baroque Aotearoa with their Director of Music Chalium Poppy in their first concert for 2019.

Here is a choir, intelligent and articulate and committed to excellence in musicianship, that any city anywhere should be proud to number amongst  its most prized cultural assets. As their name suggests, choral music from the Baroque Era is their speciality and two  works from this period by two composers dear to the hearts of true music lovers were chosen for this concert; the English Henry Purcell (1659-1695) and the Venetian Vivaldi(1678-1741).  Four church anthems by Purcell were sung for the first half of the concert. Choristers were drawn from the choir to sing solos and other ensemble work  interspersed with the choruses all giving sterling performances. The first anthem drawn from Psalm 148 exhorts all creation to bless the Lord their Creator – sun and moon, lightning and clouds, whales, beasts and cattle….  “O God, Thou Art My God” was sung with reverence and  contemplation ending with quiet Allelujahs; the tune of which was used in the hymn “Christ is made the Sure Foundation” sung at Prince Charles’s first wedding.

For the final anthems the choir was joined by talented ensemble from Opus Orchestra adding a spritely layer to the organ continuo played by Dr. Indra Hughes.   “Rejoice in the Lord Always” has interest for people who love to hear church bells peal out across a city. Purcell who was organist at Westminster Abbey wrote into the instrumental introduction of this anthem the repeated descending scale of the Westminster Chime as it pealed across London the sound of which would have been so familiar to him.

A rare and beautiful treat, acclaimed organist Dr. Indra Hughes, Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, played J.S Bach’s organ transcription of a Concerto for Strings  by Vivaldi. This was possibly the finest organ playing ever heard in the history of Tauranga exploring the entire range of the organ especially built for St. Peter’s Anglican at the Mount.

Finally, the famous “Gloria “ by Vivaldi, sung in Latin with English translation provided for the audience. “Glory to God in the Highest” was made brilliant  with trumpeter Hiro Kobayashi and oboist  Felicity Than adding to the glorious unapologetic outpouring of praise sung by the choir.  ”On Earth, Peace and Goodwill toward Men” descended as it were from the heights to the earth,  where the long and flowing rise and fall of phrase could be likened to the plains, hills and valleys as each section of the choir interweaved, proclaiming this great message of hope for mankind.

This concert was an uplifting cultural and spiritual experience. Scholars Baroque Aotearoa and your conductor, Chalium Poppy,  you have earned your high praise for this beautiful concert. Thank you.

Reviewer: Christine Leaf

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