Belfast Hears Outstanding Performances by the Pacific Boychoir

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various composers, Choral Recital: Pacific Boychoir / Andrew Brown (director), St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, 30.6.2019. (RB)

Charles Wood – ‘Hail Gladdening Light’
Hans Leo Hassler – ‘Jubilate Deo’
Rachmaninoff – Selection from All-Night Vigil
Tallis – ‘If Ye Love Me’
PoulencQuatre petites prières de Saint François d’Assise
György Deák-Bárdos – ‘Eli, Eli!’
Alice Parker – ‘Hark I Hear the Harps Eternal’
Morten Lauridsen – ‘O Nata Lux’
Eric Whitacre – ‘Sleep’
Selection of traditional songs and spirituals

The Grammy Award-winning Pacific Boychoir (PB) is made up of boys enrolled on the choral music programme of the Pacific Boychoir Academy. The latter is the only secular choir school in Western North America. They have appeared frequently with the San Francisco Symphony and with other distinguished artists and orchestras such as the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra. They will be touring Ireland, north and south, between 27 June and 7 July.

The PB performed every work on this long and demanding programme a cappella. In their opening selection of pieces the PB separated into two groups on either side of the cathedral nave to create an antiphonal effect.  The blend of voices was excellent in Charles Wood’s ‘Hail, Gladdening Light’ and the intonation was perfect. The selection of pieces from Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil was very impressive. The PB sustained the long lines beautifully and they captured the Russian soul of the music. In the final piece they were able to demonstrate an impressive range of dynamics, moving from quiet spiritual contemplation to triumphant affirmation. Rachmaninoff’s work is one of the most vocally demanding pieces to sing in the a cappella repertoire so this was a very impressive display from these young performers.

A smaller group of performers from the PB performed Poulenc’s Quatre petites prières de Saint François d’Assise (Four Small Prayers of Saint Francis of Assisi), a work which I was not familiar with prior to the concert. A number of the boys sang solo parts and they performed admirably well. The group showed an impressive command of pitch and intonation in their handling of Poulenc’s unusual harmonies. The French diction was admirably clear and there was close attention to detail and a wide range of dynamics. The whole choir joined forces once again to give a masterful performance of Tallis’s ‘If Ye Love Me’ while György Deák-Bárdos’s ‘Eli, Eli!’ had a plangent beauty.

In the final part of the concert, the PB sang a selection of American anthems, traditional songs and spirituals. The rich sonorities of Morten Lauridsen’s ‘O Nata Lux’ reverberated around St Anne’s Cathedral, mesmerising the audience. The PB did a marvellous job conjuring up the dark sonorities of Eric Whitacre’s ‘Sleep’ and the final ebbing away of the piece was magical. ‘Danny Boy’ was a very good choice for this audience and this arrangement by Steve Blum, with its rich harmonic background, went down a treat. The PB brought vibrancy and rhythmic energy to the selection of spirituals. The finished with a fast and furious version of ‘The Battle of Jericho’ by Moses Hogan, bringing the concert to a thrilling conclusion.

There were two encores. First, we heard an anthem from South Africa in which the choir treated us to some tribal dance moves (I noticed that a few members of the audience joined in!). The final piece was a soulful and moving performance of ‘Shenandoah’.

This was an outstanding performance and the Pacific Boychoir and their teachers are to be commended for mastering such a wide range of demanding repertoire and achieving such a high level of performance.

Robert Beattie    

For more about the Pacific Boychoir click here.

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