Coro Austral is a group of 13 (mostly) unaccompanied voices under the direction of Margot McLaughlin. In this concert they presented mainly Spanish music with some French and Australian for good measure.
The first half of the concert focussed on pieces to do with war. The French Renaissance composer Clément Janequin’s La Guerre (La bataille de Marignan) offered a lot of scope for full throated singing, vocal sound effects and antiphonal calls across the proverbial battle field. Percussion added to this warlike chaos, but I was impressed by how conscientiously the choir followed the conductor’s beat. Bright and strident vocal tone was also used to good effect at times.
The Missa de la Batalla Escoutez by Francisco Guerrero was less overtly war-like. The text of this piece was just the straight proper of the Latin mass. The opening Kyrie was a gentle contrast to the earlier work. This was quite an ambitious work for just 13 voices as it ranged from three parts in the Domine Deus to six in the Agnus Dei. Nice contrasts were achieved in Qui sedes ad dextram Patris and the Et resurrexit sections. I would have liked a little more joy in the latter; one can’t help thinking of the Et resurrexit in Bach’s B minor Mass. I understand there are no trumpets to help here, but there is always an anticipation in the Mass of that turning point from the sadness of death to joy of resurrection. There were some more atmospheric moments such as the lovely floating tone of the soprano line in the Sanctus, and also the warm voices of the altos (despite the low tessitura) and strength of the basses in the Benedictus. The tenors achieved a real sense of pleading with the swelling of phrases in the miserere nobis.
After interval there was an interesting arrangement of contrasts in the program. Firstly, works by the Spanish Renaissance composer Thomás Luis de Victoria and then settings of the same texts by Pablo Casals (of early 20th century cello fame). They then performed more motets by Victoria followed by the same texts set by the contemporary Australian composer Joseph Twist. It was quite fascinating to compare these settings; first the very traditional 16th century counterpoint, then the more often dissonant and homophonic modern settings.
My favourite performance of the whole concert was the Victoria O vos omnes from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. The choir obviously knew this piece well and sang it with full tone and conviction. I also liked the use of dissonance to bring out the yearning in Twist’s setting of Versa est in luctum.
Again some good firm tone was produced in the Jerusalem section of the second Lamentation, and also in the opening line of Hombres, Victoria, Victoria!
The choir is recruiting at the moment and McLaughlin said some of their members were away overseas. I look forward to hearing this choir again in the future when their numbers are augmented.