Review: Voces8 Dazzles at St. Matthew’s Guild

Voces8
Photos courtesy of Thomas Neenan

By Pablo Corá | Contributing Writer

On Friday, November 1, world-renowned British vocal ensemble Voces8 came to the Palisades under the auspices of St. Matthew’s Music Guild. Local music lovers were joined by concertgoers who had traveled from as far away as Hawaii and New Jersey to hear a group that Gramopone magazine called “impeccable and meticulous in timing and tuning.”

The program, entitled “Choral Dances,” featured a cappella music from the Renaissance to American standards. Each piece was presented with an authenticity that highlighted the individual and collective versatility of the performers.

It would be a challenge to identify clear audience favorites, but several selections did a special job in capturing the imagination of the audience.

Benjamin Britten’s “Gloriana” was composed in 1953 to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The opera tells part of the story of her predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I. In it, a chorus of peasants sing songs celebrating the accomplishments of their Faerie Queene. The ensemble handled the “Six Dances”—ranging from contemplative to rollicking—with ease.

Later, the group gave a stunning rendition of “Bogoroditse Devo” from the “All Night Vespers” of Sergei Rachmaninov. These gems of the Russian choral literature are usually performed by large choral ensembles.

On Friday, the eight singers gave the effect of 80 choristers, such was the precision of their intonation, breath support and care in presenting the text of this deceptively complex piece to the listeners.

After intermission, Paul Smith (founder, former member, composer and now artistic manager) took the stage to speak about the importance of music education to the overall mission of Voces8.

In addition to performances all over the world, they take time to conduct master classes with vocal ensembles of all levels. By his calculation, Voces8 works with an average of 40,000 musicians each year.

To highlight this outreach, the USC Thornton Chamber Singers joined the group onstage to perform Smith’s “Nunc Dimittis” and an arrangement of the Scottish folk ballad “Caledonia,” written by the only American in the group, tenor Blake Morgan. The sound of Voces8 plus 34 collegiate singers was breathtaking.

What elevated the entire evening was the rapport each member of Voces8 established with the audience. They introduced selections to the audience with a relaxed presence that ably set the stage for the music that followed.

After a near instantaneous standing ovation, Voces8 closed the evening with an encore of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” They departed the stage to sustained applause, leaving the audience hopeful that they would return again to the Music Guild.

In speaking with the singers after the concert, they were unanimous in their appreciation of the audience and are eager to return in the future.