The vaulted roof of Knox Church provided the perfect reverb for the soaring voices of the Octagon Ensemble’s 10 female singers during the newly-formed group’s first Dunedin concert on Sunday afternoon.
The audience was treated to superb performances of wide-ranging works, from plainsong by 11th century abbess, scholar and composer Hildegard von Bingen to modern settings of poetry.
Conducted by John Buchanan, and led by artistic adviser Tessa Romano, the singers – Romano,Sara Brown, Ondine Gotschalk, Emma McClean, Rosemary Tarbotton, Sophie Gangl, Courtney Hickmott, Olivia Pike, Anna Tarbotton, and Michelle Walker – achieved a beautifully balanced soprano-alto sound, singing with accuracy and nicely judged dynamic range.
The concert began with wonderful unaccompanied renditions of works by von Bingen, Monteverdi, Poulenc, along with Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria, complete with stunning soaring descant.
After a beautiful solo performance of Scarlatti’s rippling Sonata in B Minor by pianist Sharon McLennan, the Octagon Ensemble changed it up with Bob Chilcott’s delightful A Little Jazz Mass
With the singers accompanied by a jazz trio of drums, double bass and piano, while also following the format of the traditional Latin Mass, the work was intriguing and great fun.
After the interval, the concert moved into the realm of modern works, beginning with Jocelyn Hagen’s glorious Moon Goddess – a modern setting of a poem written in 2300 BC by Sumarian female poet Enheduanna.
This was followed by the tribal-sounding Lineage, by Andrea Ramsay, with Daniel Dance and Rhys Thorn on percussion, and Morten Lauridsen’s contemplative Sure On This Shining Night
The final works of the programme were by USA-based Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo, with a string quartet of Craig Monk (violin), Sally Couper (violin), Alan Starrat (viola), and Anna Peterson (cello) joining McLennan on piano for two lyrical, filmic works The Crossing and Home
The full chorus and piano quintet brought the concert to a deeply satisfying conclusion with soaring performances of Gjeilo’s lovely The Rose and Tundra
Sunday’s magnificent performance by the Octagon Ensemble was a triumph for all involved. Bravo!