Sparkling performances from superbly schooled Youth Choir

Wellington Youth Choir

Te Quiero (‘To adore, to love, to have faith’)

Directed by Hazel Fenemor and Jared Corbett (accompanist)

Music included by Stanford, Childs, Chilcott, Mendelssohn, Mark Sirett, Alberto Favero, Gershwin and traditional songs

Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Hill Street

Friday 9 October, 7:30 pm

The name given to this concert, Te quiero, was borrowed from the song that ended the first half. It was an attractive, slightly sentimental song by Argentinian multi-talented musician, Alberto Favero. A nice title for a concert as a general sentiment, though its relevance to most of the items seemed a bit indiscriminate.

There was a reasonable audience, part of which seemed to comprise a sort of claque or bunch of groupies who led vociferous, rock-concert-style clapping and shouting at every opportunity. A spirited and enlivening backing that surely encouraged the singers, under the gifted Hazel Fenemor, to invest their performances with the energy, zeal, precision and polish that characterised all their singing.

Even the singing of the first item, a Latin motet of pious character, inspired wild enthusiasm. And though I applauded in a more restrained fashion, I felt the same as the fans about the splendid singing of Stanford’s ‘Beati quorum via…’, literally, ‘Blessed (are those) whose path is undefiled (and the rest is ‘who walk according to the law of the Lord’). His delightful setting gave space to each section of the choir to display its virtues, while finally blending beautifully in full ensemble.

David Childs, US-based, New Zealand composer’s ‘O magnum mysterium’ (which doesn’t refer to an inscrutable, outsize champagne bottle) employed the choir much more in ensemble mode, again a cappella and again full of energy and clarity.

That ended the Latin, and Bob Chilcott’s arrangement of the Londonderry Air, with Jared Corbett at the piano, followed; it was gently paced, with sopranos leading the canon-like opening through each section of the choir, in attractive harmony.

The concert’s structure was carefully devised, with interesting variety, avoiding the risk of unduly upsetting any audience members with musical prejudices. So Schubert came next; Will King sang ‘Ich frage keine Blume’ (Der Neugierige) from Die schöne Müllerin. An attractive unforced voice that carried comfortably over Corbett’s piano and across the church. (One Schubert song is never enough).

Mendelssohn didn’t dabble in Latin either and his motet ‘Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe’ (or, in the Gloria of the Mass: ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’). Balance between men and women of the choir shifted interestingly; and it was an opportunity for several solo voices from the choir to come forward: Kristin Li, Hannah van Dorp, Joel Miller and Will King. These and almost all the solo singers impressed me with their ease of delivery and awareness of the demands of articulation and integration with a larger whole.

From this point familiar composer names diminished. Mark Sirett is an admired Canadian composer, from the Acadian region – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, or part thereof. One of his very popular choral pieces is ‘Ce beau printemps’, a setting of a poem the great 16th century French poet Pierre de Ronsard, conducted by Jared Corbett: another quiet, quasi-religious, a cappella motet with wide musical range, it was engaging.

Then the eponymous song, ‘Te quiero’. The programme seemed to suggest that its meanings were variously as in the heading; but ‘quiero’ is not the infinitive form, but the first person singular and according to my limited grasp of Spanish means ‘I love’ or ‘I adore you’ or perhaps, ‘I have faith in you’.
Anyway, it’s by Argentinian composer Alberto Favero, a multi-talented musician who’s very popular; this a cappella song involved women’s voices prominently, and two soloists, soprano Samantha Morris and bass William Briscoe. An attractive setting, with a touch of sentimentality, or perhaps just sentiment; the word that came to me at the moment was ‘very nice’.

After the interval the singers took their places all round the nave and down the aisles, creating effects that would have varied hugely according to one’s place in the church. They sang the Norwegian ‘Jesus gjør meg stille’ (Jesus makes me silent) starting with some very remote and quiet voices but suddenly they burst into full voice. Bass Phill Houlihan took a solo part and the men maintained a drone which led to more complex, climactic polyphony, slowly fading away with women’s voices in unison. The effect was enchanting.

The concert continued with more traditional items, including another Norwegian song, Northern Lights, sopranos and altos prominent, dynamics beautifully controlled. The Beatles’ ‘I want to hold your hand’ was sung by Lizzy Olliver with guitar accompaniment. The Traditional spiritual ‘This little light of mine’ brought Corbett back to guide singers though this slow, dreamy song, featuring alto Jenna Cook. Christianna Stewart sang Gershwin’s ‘Someone to watch over me’, with vocal subtlety, wispy, ethereal, that rather undid me.

‘I want it that way’ was coloured by a barbershop, a cappella quality; as I should have remarked much earlier, under their conspicuously talented director Hazel Fenemor, they produced brilliant vocal colour and character, ensemble was excellent and thus diction was invariably clear, and I choose the Backstreet Boys’ 1999 hit, to draw attention to these qualities.

And finally, another splendid Broadway classic, Gershwin’s hit from Funny Face, ‘S’wonderful’, complete with solo alto voice Lee Stuart, Eddie Kerr (snare drum) and Phill Houlihan (bass).

This was an admirable concert, quality and variety excellently judged, hardly any piece that was not really worth performing and made worth listening to by this splendidly schooled choir.

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