August 5, 2008

Male Choir Delivers Powerful Performance

By BROWN, Harry

SUNDAY'S organ-choral concert in St Mary's Pro-cathedral for the George Mason Trust 2008 drew a record audience.

The Taranaki Male Choir has established a good record in its short career from an excellent start with founder Merv Smith, development and widening the repertoire with Janette Hasell and now, under its new conductor, Leon Gray-Lockhart, looks set to reach even greater heights.

The choir sang with confidence, with a good rapport between the singers and the baton. There was a little roughness in loud passages, but we all know that goose-pimple time with male voices comes from those awesome pianissimo passages, which is why the best items were the quiet ones -- Eli Jenkins' Prayer, with a wondrous tenor solo from Ieuan Evans, Bring Him Home (Les Mis) and Deep Peace.

Organist Martin Setchell is New Zealand's top concert organist, combining academic depth with dynamic flair and a rare and happy knack in selecting music that entertains as well as edifies.

His concert began with Bach's famous D minor Toccata and Fugue, immediately convincing with both contrapuntal mastery yet with the bravura and flair so necessary in Bach's music.

I particularly enjoyed the Adagio by Frank Bridge, the registration (choice of stops) building from softest tones to awesome climax in this splendid handling of the organ resources.

Suite in D Major, Setchell's own composition, demonstrated his own charm and wit yet wrapped in classical care, then carried over into a set of French pieces with the same command. Ending with a whirlwind performance of Grison's popular Toccata, Setchell responded to the ovation with an encore from Victoriana which might be regarded as grotesque, Sullivan's Lost Chord.

Grotesque? It was brilliant. He followed the words of the story- line in such style he must have created, in his audience, many a lump in the throat or many a tear in the eye. I had both.

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