In their second concert of the season and the one coinciding with Easter, The Song Company brought together their year’s theme Higher Ground with images of rebirth, growth, and renewal in a concert of Renaissance polyphony and new modern compositions. Fittingly, then, the concert also showcased the burgeoning talents of the company’s Apprentice Program, the up and coming voices of Australian music.
The central piece of the Tremors of Earth concert program was the Renaissance mass “Missa Et ecce terrae motus” by Antoine Brumel written in five movements. However, as The Song Company performs from the original manuscripts of their historical pieces and the final movement of the Brumel has been lost, the fifth movement performed was from Nicolas Gombert’s “Missa Tempore Paschali” which pays homage to the Brumel. The mass tells the story of Jesus’ resurrection and the sensational story of removing the boulder from in front of his tomb, the great earthquake referred to in the title.
The first movement “Kyrie” was deceptively simple lyrically with the repeated refrain “Kyrie elesion. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.” but the polyphony of voices across the twelve performers was very complex with constantly shifting layers and focus. The second movement “Gloria” used a similarly interesting repetition to generate an insistence to the lyrics while another section that saw the performers passing a phrase between themselves gave a sensation of sharing and community.
Interspersed amongst the Brumel were short pieces composed by director Antony Pitts and contemporary composer Alice Chance. Pitts’s Easter triptych “Tres Antiphonae Pashae” traces the the Eucharist as, how Pitts describes, “Introit, Gradual, and Communion anthems”. These compositions had less distinction between the various voices which allowed for some lovely harmonies and a variety of rhythms. For example, in the second piece “Thou knowest my lying down” had a climbing tension to it while the third “The bread which we break” was more dramatic with some staccato and big pauses for effect.
But the stand out pieces from Tremors of Earth were the two composed by Chance in acknowledgment of the Indigenous traditions and heritage incorporated within the land The Song Company performs on. The first piece of the concert was “Aurora Eora” which played with the pairing of the words “Aurora” meaning dawn and “Eora” representing the Nation of the Gadigal people and 28 other groups from around the greater Sydney area. With the performers lined up along the sides of the cathedral, their voices rose and echoed above the audience for an encompassing aural experience before they all gathered within the centre to begin the rest of the concert. In this piece, a constant hum run underneath the repetition of “Aurora” and “Eora” as the song grew in intensity like the sun dawning on a new day. The voice of soprano Elise Morton stood out in particular with a crystalline resonance which proved a promising introduction to the performers.
The second piece by Chance titled “Precious Colours (Pallah-Pallah)” was based on the Gamilaraay Dreaming story of Pallah-Pallah, the butterfly, as told by Auntie June Barker. The story is one about the foolishness of youth and explains the creation of the opal as coming from the beautiful colours of Pallah-Pallah’s butterfly wings. The performance was captivating from the opening as the lyrics were rotated through the performers from Emma Warburton to Lily Harper to Morton and to Cassandra Doyle before touching on the other performers, as well. This composition was particularly beautiful for the balance between the solo and multiple voices as they ebbed and flowed before finishing on a solemn hum.
Tremors of Earth was a program of great variety in tone and taste but with a consistent interest in themes of new beginnings, which was fitting for the Easter time and aptly represented in the ensemble’s floral attire. The mix of old and new compositions was a challenging combination but allowed the apprentices to show off their impressive flexibility of style and demonstrated a promising collaborative avenue for The Song Company and young composers like Chance.
Tremors of Earth was performed at St Andrew’s Cathedral on April 29th
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