REVIEW / CONCERT
MESSA DI GLORIA
Nidarosdomens Guttekor, Thomas Ruud (tenor), Magne Draagen (organ), re:Sound Chamber Orchestra, Bjorn Moe (conductor)
Esplanade Concert Hall
Last Friday and Saturday
The choir of Nidaros Cathedral comprises about 50 boys and men. That is a pretty big choir to fill even the most cavernous of cathedrals.
But this is a choir with ambitions which stretch far beyond the walls of its Trondheim home in Norway - said to be the most northerly mediaeval church in the world.
The choir's ambitious Singapore debut saw it perform on two consecutive evenings in the city's largest concert hall.
For most Singaporeans, the name of the choir would have been as alien as the concept of a mixed-age, all-male choral group relying totally on the musicality of its performance (no silly visual stunts here), but nobody in the impressively large audience gathered on both nights would have been disappointed.
Only in the first half did the two evenings' programmes differ in their mix of Norwegian, German and English sacred pieces.
Many of these were intuitively supported by Magne Draagen, who has mastered the idiosyncrasies of the Esplanade organ sufficiently to provide some beautifully colourful accompaniments. He begin each concert with a crisply played solo - Bach's Wachet Auf.
It was particularly impressive to witness how these Norwegian singers, many who are still under 10 years of age, could memorise not only four languages (German, English, Latin and Norwegian), but also sound idiomatic in each.
Even more impressive was their corporate diction. The lavish programme booklets gave no texts, but the audience did not need them with singing of such impeccable clarity.
In the choir's encore performance of Home - which, naturally enough, brought last Friday's audience screaming and ululating to their feet (last Saturday's crowd was more reserved) - every lyric was crystal clear. You do not get that at a National Day Parade rally.
Bjorn Moe was a benign presence on the podium, but was always firmly in control. He has coached this choir to an amazing level of musical self-assurance and this came out vividly in the second half, when they were joined on stage by members of the re:Sound Chamber Orchestra in what was billed as the first concert performances of Puccini's Messa Di Gloria in Singapore.
Inspired as much by the choir's exquisite singing as by Moe's gentlemanly direction, re:Sound responded with fabulous orchestral playing, perfectly complementing the choir's infectious enthusiasm for this enchanting work.
Had the choral singing not been so exceptionally good, the impact of Thomas Ruud would have seemed even more spectacular.
As it was, his effortlessly powerful and gloriously robust tenor caught exactly the right combination of full-blooded operatic posturing and unaffected religious sincerity which lies at the heart of Puccini's youthful music.
I hope we get to hear more of Ruud in Singapore. Tenor voices of this calibre are extremely rare.