'The Australian' Review of Requiem: Adelaide Chamber Singers and Polyphonic Voices combine well

Graham Strahle, The Australian, 12:00AM November 21, 2016

It takes a certain courage and boldness to pull it off, but two choirs can, on occasion, sound better than one.

Barely a fortnight after having joined the Tallis Scholars for a rare performance of the 40-part motet Spem in alium, Adelaide Chamber Singers have partnered up again, this time with Melbourne’s Polyphonic Voices for Faure’s Requiem.

Much of the interest in this combined concert, however, lay in hearing and comparing the two choirs’ performance of their separate brackets of works first.

A smaller but more experienced choir because of its three-decade-long history under director Carl Crossin, ACS has evolved a particular sound that it can really call its own: it’s honed, spiritually attuned and discreetly expressive.

Its tuning was pin-sharp and the phrasing subtly but warmly rounded in motets by Palestrina, William Byrd and a leading but seldom heard Spanish-Mexican composer of the early 17th century, Juan Gutierrez de Padilla. A sparer, more crystalline sound in Byrd’s Agnus Dei from his four-part mass was the only thing one wished for. Verdi’s emotionally rapturous Ave Maria might have stuck out sandwiched in between these pieces, but it didn’t. Everything felt effortlessly serene.

To mark the recent passing of Timothy Marks, one of ACS’s choristers, Paul Stanhope supplied a quite remarkable new work, his Agnus Dei (Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep). Pushing the singers up high at the start and descending in filigreed waves of sound, its constantly varying textures stood out arrestingly.

Partly because of its larger size, the three-year-old Polyphonic Voices has a fuller sound and one that is focused on larger-scale shifts in dynamics. Under founding director Michael Fulcher, it sang out strongly in Stanhope’s Lament to St Cecilia and the boldest work on the program, Herbert Howells’s Take Him Earth for Cherishing: its steadily rising passion was goose-bumpy.

Occupying an altogether smaller sound world, the first of two Byrd motets, Libera Me, sounded a little overfed in tone and too legato in phrasing; but the second, Ne irascaris, was wonderful for its control of finely ­detailed nuance.

It was at this point one could conclude that both choirs are very evenly matched in ability.

Coming together and partnered by a 15-piece chamber group for Faure’s Requiem, the ­results only seemed to magnify. Under Crossin’s direction, there were no discontinuities at all but rather a wonderfully cohesive, ­focused choral sound.

With lovely solo singing from soprano Brooke Window and baritone Lachlan Scott, this was a really satisfying performance.

These are two superb choirs, and it was a generous act for both to participate together.

Requiem. Directors: Carl Crossin, Michael Fulcher. Adelaide Chamber Singers with Polyphonic Voices. St Peter’s Cathedral, Adelaide, November 19.