Various Voices Festival – Vogel … Carmina Burana

Carmina Burana

Nicole Tibbels (soprano)
Nigel Robson (tenor)
Mark Holland (baritone)

Various Voices Festival Choir
London Philharmonic Choir
New London Choir

Andrew Ball & Michael Ierace (pianos)
Chris Brannick, Stephen Hiscock, Catherine Ring, Nigel Shipway, Genevieve Wilkins & Caz Wolfson (percussion)

Howard Moody

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 3 May, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

It’s been an extraordinary couple of weeks at Southbank Centre but anyone who thought the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela couldn’t be bettered for colour, exhilaration and excitement would have been even more bowled over by this concert.

There is something special about the voice. It is the instrument we are all born with and can use (mostly) with no instruction. The “Various Voices” four-day festival that took over every nook and cranny of the Southbank Centre’s three halls celebrated, principally, the power of singing amongst the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities worldwide. It was also the first time in 20 years that the festival, which takes place in a different European city every four years, has been held in London.

On the festival’s penultimate evening, the Various Voices Festival Choir, comprising delegates from 14 countries and rehearsing for only three days together, was joined by the Southbank Centre’s own Voicelab for untrained singers, directed by Mary King. The massed forces of Voicelab alone, wearing coloured tops indicating voice ranger and crowded on the front of the stage around conductor Howard Moody, began the concert in relaxed, informal mood with Orlando Gough’s “Vogel”, a work commissioned for the re-opening of the Royal Festival Hall in 2007.

“Vogel” (here replacing the anticipated new pieces by Orlando Gough and Steve Martland) was originally a welcome to the performers making up the “singing river”, sung from the open-air Festival Terrace across the Thames, and this was its first indoor performance. From the African-style rocking rhythms, various words in various languages were discernible – “bird fly” and “river flow” in English; other words in German – but the vocal patchwork, ebbing and flowing as if sounding from somewhere beyond the collective diaphragms, was engrossing and involving.

Moody then directed a visceral, vital performance of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana”, its panoply of humanity perfect for the various voices that had come together. This was an organic performance of the two-piano and percussion scoring made in 1956 by Wilhelm Killmayer with Orff’s blessing. At times the two pianos were sometimes drowned-out by the vocal forces, but there was some spectacular timpani-playing.

Mark Holland has the lion’s share of the solo-vocal parts, his open shirt matching the informality of the occasion. Nigel Robson was trussed up like the poor swan (here the Australian version, as he was in black, apart from the brightly coloured bow-tie and braces. Nicole Tibbels, her silk jacket aptly matching the yellow of the sopranos, perhaps strained at the top of her range, but was very affecting. The children’s voices of the New London Choir, smiling coyly in about love and joining this wonderful, cathartic performance in grand voice.

There was an immediate and total standing ovation – heartfelt, generous and completely genuine, reflecting the amazing quality of what goes on in our concert-halls throughout the year rather than the hyped bandwagon when the next sensation breezes in.

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