Cool lighting, calm ambience and the treasures of ages lent a timeless charm to Hackett Hall for Voyces’ latest recital on Saturday — ironically so, as the theme was Time itself.
Dr Robert Braham was the timekeeper; conjuring a smorgasbord of tone, dynamics and rhythm with some exquisite harmonies to test a talented troupe of young choristers.
Reena Esmail’s Even After All this Time opened the account with soprano, tenor, alto then bass chiming in gently, building fugue-like to cascades of sound around the high ceiling and galleries; piling on intensity in strident chords then cooling to close.
Tenor Stefan Pugliese next led in Gunnar Erikson’s Till Osterland vill jag fara (I will travel to Osterland), joined in duet by Kieran Lynch, then full tenor section; altos then sopranos picking up the song of a saga, rhythmic and brisk, layering harmonies with a humming chorus. Basses joined in deepening the mix, with many lines evoking waves of migration over . . . time.
Tenors led again for Ned Rorem’s Beauty is But a Flower, from In Time of Pestilence; a folk ballad taken up by female voices underpinned by bass, with rolling melodic waves erupting in dramatic chords before fading to prayer.
Keyboard player Ann Clarke complemented the choir for Yehuda Yannay’s Le Campane di Leopardi (The Bells of Leopardi), a steady drone supporting a chordal chorus as bass Curtis Novacsek tolled out the passing of time from a gallery above the stage. Singers below replied with percussive choral effects, running down the clock in a piece set out in “hours” rather than “verses”.
Oscar Escalada’s Tangueando followed with clocklike beats from altos and offbeat punctuation in sopranos, throwing to tenor and bass, setting up a perpetuum mobile effect. Rapid accelerando then defied the dictates of regular tempi in challenging rhythm and beat.
Male and female ranks mixed and merged for Katerina Gimon’s Elements – 1. Earth; a sustained drone supporting Mei Lyn Woon’s alto solo then permeating other registers with hints of throat singing. Attenuated harmonies bent the ear to evoke mystery with distant echoes of nature and hints of wind chimes; kaleidoscopic in tone and mesmeric in effect, fading to harmonics.
Rytmus by Ivan Hrusovsky returned to convention with a Latin incantation, “Ave Eva, fons amoris” (Hail Eve, fount of love); simple at first but adding complexity in harmony and rhythm then breaking into alternating three, four and five-beat measure, the pulse lifting rapidly towards an explosive conclusion.
Philip Glass followed with Einstein on the Beach — Kneeplay 3, the initial lyric and rhythm comprising sequences of numbers. A regular pattern 1-2-3-4 settled then broke into rapidly varying beats, dissolving to a chorale on the tonic sol-fa with rhythmic highlights. A reprise of the relentless count also returned to the chorale, ending abruptly in a sudden snap.
Time is Endless, by Vytauyas Miskinis seemed an apt rejoinder. Complex chords and devotional text from Rabindranath Tagore summoned eternal dimensions, morphing to a more familiar soundscape for a brief episode then returning to the opening ambience; adding a soprano overtone to explore the heights.
Two explicitly religious numbers explored the traditional mass.
Gyorgy Orban’s Mass Number 6 — Sanctus opened with sopranos and altos intoning the title line over urgent keyboard chords. Clarke then broke into melody as voices recited the liturgical text and urgency in the keyboard summoned a scurrying Hosanna in Excelsis; contrasting lines adding depth and colour.
Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir — Agnus Dei then pitted conflicting lines of plainsong — in itself a contradiction — distorting the familiar “Lamb of God” into dramatic confrontation; sowing discord with time-honoured tradition turned on its head.
At the last, two songs without words explored Indian intonation.
Desh (Country), by Ethan Sperry, introduced a sustained drone with percussive vocal effects in tenor and bass; melodic lines in alto then soprano breaking with Western tonality in highlights evocative of Hindu temple music, before racing to a dramatic cadence.
Finally, Esmail returned — a nod to circular notions of time, perhaps — with Tuttarana, an almost identical sound palette to Sperry adding hints of Bollywood in soprano and alto with dramatic flourishes across the ensemble; energetic and agile to the last.
Of course there was an encore; Pugliese stepping up for The Beatles’ In My Life, telling of the familiar in tension with the new — a timely reminder of the theme.