REVIEW / CONCERT
VIENNA BOYS CHOIR
Victoria Concert Hall/Last Saturday
A visit from members of the Vienna Boys Choir has become something of a regular feature on the Singapore arts calendar.
This year, it is doing something new by staying a whole week and giving coaching sessions, masterclasses and lectures. It is also presenting two concerts, the second of which (tonight at the Esplanade) sees it collaborating with eight local choirs.
For last Saturday's concert, however, it had the stage to itself.
Its 90-minute programme comprised the customary mix of music stretching across centuries, styles and languages. It also moved from the musically intense to the musically flippant, with the audience becoming progressively more excited as the songs became increasingly more outrageous.
It was aided by its Brazilian conductor and choirmaster, Luiz de Godoy, who not only danced around the stage for a Strauss Polka but also ebulliently accompanied several of the songs himself on the piano.
Not to be outdone, the choir's president and artistic director, Gerald Wirth, put in a cameo appearance in the second half, banging a drum for all he was worth.
Familiar and welcome party pieces were included. Among these were the extraordinary musical menagerie by the 15th-century Italian composer, Adriano Banchieri - which involved the boys happily barking like dogs, mewing like cats and screeching like monkeys - and the Blue Danube, delivered as an enthusiastically demanded encore.
There were also several songs which suited the choir so perfectly that its impeccably crafted performances fully justified its enduring reputation as the greatest children's choir of all time.
These included Britten's Gloria, delivered with the kind of open-throated, uninhibited singing the composer craved; and three short Russian songs by Stravinsky which sounded far more easy and straightforward than they actually were.
Best of all was its opening item, a magical 13th-century canon sung with such a deliciously pure tone and unaffected fluency that the spell was hardly broken when the choir, singing while moving along, reached the stage and clomped over the boards and risers with the kind of delicacy you would expect from 23 pairs of young boys' feet.
Not everything musical was sweetness and light either.
De Godoy took Buxtehude's Cantate Domino at such a desperate lick that the boys seemed quite dumbstruck and several abandoned the unequal battle between ridiculously fast passage-work and clarity of tone.
Wirth's rabble-rousing arrangements were clearly more intended to get the audience whipped up than to provide musical substance for the singers.
While these were all great fun, one did wonder what that eminent former Vienna chorister - Schubert - would have thought of such antics. However, he would unquestionably have approved of the enchanting solo voice from the choir which gave a truly heart-rending account of his famous Ave Maria.