Review
/Irish Treaminer - 06 05 2003/

The International Choral Festival continues to astonish. Just when I think I have heard everything beautiful that can be done by the human voice, a new group adds yet another dimension.
So it was that I found myself in the Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne (the North Chapel) at 10.30pm on Friday, listening in awe to the remarkably lovely music made by two very different vocal groups - Banchieri Singers from Hungary and White Raven from Switzerland - wondering whether there is any thing that singers cannot do.
Banchieri Singers (two sopranos, counter-tenor, tenor, baritone and bass), all young, sing without a conductor and seem to me to take up where the King Singers left off.
They do not just sing in tune; their apparent use of what is known as Just Tuning brings an edge of excitement to all major chords that has to be heard to be believed. In addition, their control of balance and dynamic contrast is superb.
The composers whose music they sang ranged from the Elizabethan Thomas Tallis to the contemporary Hungarian Gyorgy Orban, and they were equally expert in every style. The simplicity, immaculate tuning and supported pianissimo on Orlando Gibbons' madrigal, Drop, Drop Slow Tears, was most moving, the chromaticism in works by Alonso Lobo and Gesualdo was astonishing and the sprightliness of the rhythms in Scarlatti's Exultate Deo an enormous joy to hear.
In their second group, they somehow managed to subtly alter their tone quality in keeping with the harmonic and stylistic changes demanded by music of the 20th century. The performances were electric. Totus tuus (written for John Paul II's third visit to his homeland) has a hypnotic quality in the seemingly endless repetitions of the word Maria on very slowly changing chords and the quiet reverence of their approach was mesmeric.
By way of contrast, in Orban's humorous Daemon irrepit, we heard music that was a marvellous progression along the road mapped out by his Hungarian predecessors, Kodaly and Bardos. With its exciting inner word rhythms and imaginative harmonies this was a magnificent ending.

Kathleen Dineen (Macroom), David Munderloh (Wisconsin) and Raitis Grigalis (Riga, Latvia), collectively known as White Raven, brought yet another dimension to part-singing that was as unexpectedly beautiful as it was delightful. Singing in block harmony, very sweetly and simply, with impeccable diction, their approach suits the music remarkably.
Their performance of Sean O'Casey's Down Where the Bees are Humming and the ballad, The Parting Glass, in particular, were superb examples of wonderfully restrained showmanship.

(Declan Townsend)

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