On the eve of their Cuban tour, Coro Austral, conducted Artistic Director Margot McLaughlin, presented a concert pillared by the Mass For the Dead by Portuguese composer Manuel Cardoso. The clear acoustics of the Redfern Town Hall and its simple decor created an intimate performing space for this acapella celebration of Love, Loss and Remembrance.
Sydney’s Spanish and Latin American chamber choir are taking some of these works on a tour through Cuba including participation in the International Festival of Choirs – Santiago de Cuba, a long standing event in the choral calendar. This Sunday afternoon concert gave the audience a chance to experience a selection of songs from around the mostly Latin American world, punctuated by only two pieces in English – the stunning Purcell’s Funeral Sentences and Elgar’s beautiful They Are At Rest.
Spanish, Yiddish and Argentinian songs were woven through the Cardoso Mass, a magnificent chant like piece, smooth and soaked in tradition.
Tragedy and sorrow were common threads in the afternoon’s concert. Juan del Ensina’s Triste Espana mourned the premature death of Prince Juan whose death at only 19 threw Spain into “deep depression and mourning”.
A beautiful juxtaposition followed with a song about the well known poet of Argentina Alfonsina Storni who, haunted by the sea and breast cancer, walked into the ocean to die. The poetry came alive in the voices of Coro singing in Argentinian.
We were lulled into interval by a Yiddish folk song Tumbalalaika.
After the interval we were treated to the haunting Caercall a’chuain (the Circle of the Ocean) sung in Gaelic. You could hear the ocean in the poetry. The whimsical Cuban piece Solo de Guitarra followed, which included clapping as percussion and a dance-like pace, lifting us temporarily from the soul searching of the theme. The Sanctus and Benedictus of the Mass came next, its relentless presence reminding us about the inevitability of life and death. A fitting and moving moment followed as the choir sang Elgar’s They are At Rest as a tribute to a founding choir member, Judith Cantor.
The final song after Cardoso’s soulful Requiem was a wonderful piece from Mexico, La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, which forms part of the Day of the Dead Festival. Wonderful to hear the castanets accompanying, played by a chorister.
The story in music of the legendary figure La Llorona finished an amazing journey through folk song and formality, performed by an ambitious and well-blended ensemble. This veritable banquet of Iberian and Latin American music was finished appropriately by wine and refreshments. Well done Coro Austral and good luck on your tour!