Reviews, News and Commentary

Victoria Kelly’s Requiem has a New Zealand voice

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Requiem: Victoria Kelly, Simon O’Neill, Jayne Tankersley, Ruby Solly


Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra

Auckland Town Hall

March 11

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

The major work of the APO’s latest concert as part of the Auckland Arts Festival was Victoria Kelly’s “Requiem”, a reworking of to traditional form but with a distinctly New Zealand voice.

The evening was preceded by several other pieces including the opening work “Ātahu”  composed by Ruby Solly and performed by Maianginui, a group comprised  of four women who use various performance methods such as poi and  taonga pūoro.

“Ātahu” was a reworking of the tale  of Tinirau and Kae,.which is an origin story which features a group of Māori women, led by Hineteiwaiwa who need to identify the tohunga Kae by making him smile. They try all sorts of performance types, including haka and various taonga pūoro to get him to smile and reveal his crooked tooth, so they can identify him, and kill him for a previous misdemeanour.

The work fuses orchestral music and Māori with a mix of eerie and celebratory sounds where the two groups often merged and then at other times there were distinct contrasts.

This was followed by  Claude Debussy; s “Nocturnes”, three short symphonic poems which are depictions of various scenes which are also descriptions of mental or dreamlike states. So, they describe the beauty of Nature as well as the overwhelming sensations of the  reverie.

The first movement  “Nuage” painted an  impressionist scene with indistinct colours while also giving the impression of changing states of slumber, dreaming and bliss with conductor Vincent Hardaker acting as a dream merchant, shaping dreams and nightmares.

 Fêtes with its dance rhythms suggest a more dramatic landscape with threatening clouds, lightning and thunder which also alluded to the notion of an awakening from a terrible dream with Hardaker taking on a more fiendish approach to the music.. 

With Sirènes the Luminata Voices Women’s Chamber Choir created images of the sea sparkling in the moonlight, and the alluring song of the Sirens which suggested a troubled sleep with the textures of the voices and instruments blending sublimely and choir taking on a heavenly sound .

The Mahler song “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” opened the second half of the concert and was an ideal introduction to the “Requiem”. In the song the singer tells of having  become lost to the world saying “I really have died to the world. I have died to all the world’s turmoil, and I rest in a silent realm. I live in solitude in my heaven, In my love, in my song.”

Simon O’Neill sang it beautifully with long, unfolding, unhurried melodic lines along with the slow-moving harmonies of the orchestra,

He expressed sorrow and loneliness accompanied by the woodwind which added some emotional richness. At time he was the man crying in the wilderness while the shimmering strings hinted at an enveloping darkness.

Victoria Kelly’s Requiem has very little darkness to it. She used  poems by prominent New Zealand poets – Bill Manhire, Sam Hunt, Chloe Honum, Ian Wedde and James K Baxter to provide various  narratives with the writers contemplating the vastness and minutae of nature and the world.  There were continual references to light and the sky which spoke of an awakening rather than death.

After an orchestral opening which had a hint of taonga pūoro Simon O Neill’s anguished voice led us through Bill Manhire’s “Prayer” accompanied by some unsettling music from the orchestra. This was followed by the Sam Hunt poem “Requiem” with images of the lighthouse and a metaphorical lighthouse keeper who controls the light of the heavens. In a touch of theatricality the song was enhanced by a bright spotlight illuminating the stage.

The Luminata choir, joined by the Lux Singers provided additional depth to the work as the poet’s friend  ascended to the “the polished stars” accompanied by the jangling sounds of the xylophone, gong and tubular bells.

Unfortunately, while O’Neill’s voice was ideal for singing the Mahler it lacked the tone needed to fully illuminate the poems.

The other three songs  by Chloe Honum, Ian Wedde and James K Baxter were sung by soprano  Jayne Tankersley where her voice contrasted and merged with that of the choir. Occasionally the emotional  connection with the text of the poems was lost, swamped by the music which brilliantly created images of the sea / sky / earth interface with piercing woodwind, dramatic percussion and enveloping strings.

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By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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