What an exhilarating evening hosted by Coro Austral at St Augustine’s Church in Balmain. Coro is a Sydney based amateur chamber choir which specializes in music of Hispanic origin. Their bubbling director, Margot McLaughlin, kept us fully informed before each piece and clearly is blessed with perfect pitch as she started each segment with an introductory note. Her enthusiasm was clearly infectious as the ten-strong group never faltered.
The programme was titled “Chili Con Carne”, not only because of the last work but also because of other references to food. For entree, however, we had a Columbian fertility song by Jose Rincon. This included a hand drum or “darbuka” played by Marilyn Schock, and I particularly enjoyed the prominent part played by the tenor, Gary Brewer.
Two love songs by the well known Argentinian composer Carlos Gustavina followed and then folksongs by Manuel Ponce from Mexico and by a Venezuelan, Rafael Suarez. By this time, the audience was really warming to the group with its accuracy and clear enunciation, and was ready to appreciate Guastavino’s “Rice with milk” which dwelt on the type of girl the singer would like to marry – one who could make the best rice pudding!
Last before the interval, Daniel Rojas, the Sydney based Peruvian/Chilean composer introduced his command “Eat your rice!”. He wasn’t wrong when he said that the piece was difficult! With varying syncopation and counterpoint, the work was beautifully handled by the ensemble.
Hungarian émigré, Matyas Seiber’s music was becoming prominent in England before his premature demise. His six Yugoslav songs though departing from the Latin theme, were particularly impressive and the fifth, Hussars, featured dotted rhythms and intricate counterpoint. It was good to hear some Eastern European inflections as a contrast to the rest of the programme.
The pianist Anthony Pasquill joined the group for a section of Sephardic Jewish folksongs arranged by Joshua Jacobson, an American choral conductor, composer, arranger, educator and scholar who specialises in Jewish choral repertoire. It was noticeable that both had sad words yet the music was light in nature and included the use of castanets which made it particularly attractive.
No Hispanic themed evening would be complete without the music of Astor Piazzolla and his Milonga del Angel really hit the spot. Milonga means tango house and the piece has been adapted for many musical combinations, here the choir humming to a slow tango rhythm. This put the audience in a relaxed mood for the Finale.
Written by Swede, Anders Edenroth, for his “Real Group”, Chili Con Carne is a bubbling celebration of the fiery dish and was an ideal medium to show off the abilities of the group with descants and changing tempos. “Don’t forget, don’t forget the Mexican Spices” we were exhorted and the audience certainly won’t forget the spiciness of the evening with its huge spectrum of music of varied origin.
Coro Austral produced well-rehearsed music worthy of a professional outfit under the expert direction of Margot McLaughlin. Look out for their next concert and enjoy fine singing in a beautiful church hall tucked away in a quiet corner of Sydney.