St Augustine?s Church, Queen?s Gate, was the setting for last Friday?s performance given by the ICU Choir, once again under the direction of Dr. Therees Tkach Hibbard.
The IC Chamber Choir, a slightly smaller group made up from members of the larger choir, opened the evening?s performance with William Byrd?s ?Mass for Five Voices?. Written circa 1594, the work is a classic example of 16th century church music although it was written at a time when singing mass was punishable by imprisonment. The work is divided into six parts, the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and the Agnus Dei. The choir gave a clear rendition of the Mass throughout, despite the church?s echo, no small feat, some would suggest, in some of the more dissonant areas of the score.
After a brief interval for both the choir and audience to imbibe a little wine, the full choir began the headline work, David Fanshawe?s ?African Sanctus?. The subject of a 1975 BBC documentary, ?African Sanctus? is a unique work, combining recordings made by Fanshawe on his travels around Africa with a more traditional mass sung by a choir.
The work commences with a movement simply entitled ?Sanctus? accompanied by the vibrant strains of the ?Bwala? of the Acholi people of Northern Uganda. This is followed by the ?Kyrie?, which is beautifully harmonised with the call to prayer as sung by the Immam of a Cairo mosque. The ensuing ?Gloria? is set against the music from a wedding witnessed by the composer whilst travelling along the Nile. The Gregorian style ?Chant? and ?Credo? are then accompanied by the fervent prayers of four men whom Fanshawe encountered in the Western Sudan one night and then the sound of courtship dances from the Chad region. This is followed by a haunting piano solo, masterfully played by the choir?s pianist for the evening Andrew Robinson and backed by a Hadanduan love song which combined produce a truly exquisite sound. The first part of the Sanctus then closes with the ?Et in Spiritum Sanctum? along with the songs of refugees telling of their plight and culminating in the awesome sounds of an African thunderstorm.
The second part of the Sanctus kicked off to the sounds of a tropical rainstorm and a lone tribesman singing, with the choir singing the ?Crucifixus?. There is then a return to the ?Sanctus? of the first part although with even greater energy and representing a true fusion of African and Western music. The conductor then sets the well known words of the ?Lord?s Prayer? to the sounds of a family grieving over the body of a dead fisherman and this more solemn sound is continued in the ?Agnus Dei? which follows to the music of a traditional African warrior?s burial. The Sanctus finally closes with a raucous ?Gloria? spurred on by the sheer energy of the African Bwala dance and percussion.
Whilst a slight deviation from the choir?s usual genre, the African Sanctus gave the choir another chance to show their considerable musical prowess. It has to be said though, that perhaps in this case, the choice of venue was not the best, with much of the recorded sound disappearing into the church?s echo. Regardless of this it certainly seemed that the choir had as much fun performing the work, as the audience had listening to it.