If you were playing close attention you would have seen the wink that passed between one boy and another, or the occasional wry smile when a singer mispitched his note. It was a reminder that despite the professional focus and golden singing these were boys after all, between the ages of 10 and 14. We were witnessing the modern incarnation of the centuries-old Vienna Boys Choir.
The 20-piece choir sang with angelic sound, as expected. There was also warmth and graininess from the alto voices and an impressive range of timbre, from the purity required to sing Renaissance works by Palestrina and De Victoria to the swinging gusto of gospel and popular ballads. Soloists with bird-like accuracy and sureness of pitch during complex harmonies revealed the virtuosity for which the choir is renowned. The range of repertoire and intense concentration of the boys over two hours of performing was also impressive.
Impressive but to be expected; this is one of the world’s best children’s choirs. So it was a surprise to discover the choir’s tendency to rush the end of phrases. When conductor Manolo Cagnin led from piano the standard of singing dropped markedly and the rhythmic precision of conductor and choir suffered. A capella works were consistently steadier, with blended tone and phrases more carefully shaped.
Songs by contemporary composers Raymond Murray Schafer and Gerald Wirth (the choir’s artistic director) involved the use of percussion, clapping and vocal effects. Schafer’s Miniwanka was particularly effective in its onomatopoeic depiction of water. Elena Kats-Chernin’s Land of Sweeping Plains was melodic with engrossing layering of voices. The choir’s uninhibited enthusiasm for these new pieces and techniques was refreshing. Ultimately it was this unsuppressed youthful engagement that satisfied most, despite the inconsistent musical standards.
This review copyright The West Australian 2012.