Concert review: Sacred Armenian tunes, heavenly voices of Vox Camerata

Quite amazingly, this was the fourth choral concert this reviewer has attended in as many evenings. Four different venues, four different choirs, and in certain ways, this one was the most inspiring.

Vox Camerata is an a cappella outfit in its eleventh year led by young Malay conductor Mohamad Shahril Salleh who had studied in United States, Britain and Australia. Entry to the choir is without audition, and its members differ vastly in levels of experience, from young students to professional singers.

The concert "Collegia Musica: In Memoriam" held on Saturday evening in the diminutive sanctuary of the Armenian Church of St Gregory The Illuminator, Singapore's oldest church (erected in 1835), was dedicated to the memory of victims of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

The acoustics in the G.D.Coleman designed church was surprisingly good, with the choir singing under its small rotunda. The sound was neither too dry nor too reverberant, and when the choir went full voice, it was easy to forget the vehicular traffic and evening birdsong outside.

Beginning with Josef Rheinberger's Abendlied (Evening Song) and Benjamin Britten's Deus In Adjutorium Meum (Haste Thee God To Deliver Me), its merits could be readily discerned. These included the presence of strong individual singers of solo quality, a rock-steady bass section and general cohesiveness as a group.

Central to the tribute was the performance of Armenian sacred songs. Khoroud Khorin by Komitas saw the solo tenor voice of Carlo Beltran rise above the liturgical drone of the choir, while a semi-chorus of nine performed two short songs by Grigor Arakelian.

The choir had received special coaching in the Armenian language and, despite some vocal limitations in the difficult scores, acquitted itself.

Another highlight was an exquisite reading of Gregorio Allegri's Miserere.

To create the special antiphonal effect, four singers were placed on the opposite side of the hall and facing the main group. The glory of this work is the high treble that wafts into heavenly realms, wonderfully realised by soprano Claire Wee. Opposite her were stentorian recitatives provided by the splendid bass Brent Allcock, adding to the piece's mystic quality.

The choir had more than warmed up, bringing no little passion and polish to the popular motets, Deodat de Severac's Tantum Ergo and Bruckner's Christus Factus Est. The latter brought out the full volume and range of the choir's abilities, filling the space with a spine-tingling resonance.

The final song was Australian composer Graeme Morton's Crossing The Bar, a solace-filled contemplation on the end of life and the thereafter, dedicated to Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

As a contrast to the sacred, the encore was secular but still filled with meaningful words, a John Lennon medley of Imagine and Let It Be, in a swinging arrangement by Shahril. Tenor Timothy Liu took the spotlight and the smiles of 27 people brought the 70-minute recital to a satisfying close.