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Review: Dalmatica (Sydney Festival)

Live Reviews - Classical Music | Vocal & Choral

Review: Dalmatica (Sydney Festival)

by Angus McPherson on January 23, 2017 (January 23, 2017) filed under Classical Music | Vocal & Choral | Comment Now
★★★½☆ A meditative, atmospheric journey through a unique and fascinating corner of sacred music.

CIty Recital Hall, Sydney
January 23, 2017

The sound of Pismu novu, svi pivajmo – a traditional Advent chant from Veli Varoš (a neighborhood in the historic old town of Split, on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast) – reverberated throughout City Recital Hall as singers processed slowly down the aisle. The texture was thick with the unaccompanied male voices of Kantaduri – a group of six Croatian cantors – while four female voices from French medieval vocal ensemble Dialogos gently coloured the upper spectrum of the harmonies. The sedate procession reached the stage during the second number, O, prislavna Božja Mati, another Advent chant, this time from the city of Stari Grad on the island of Hvar.

Kantaduri: Stjepan Franetovic, Srecko Damjanovic, Joško Caleta, Nikola Damjanovic, Milivoj Rilov, Marko Rogosic, photos by Jamie Williams

In Dalmatica: Chants of the Adriatic, the ensemble turned the space of City Recital Hall into a cathedral, utilising the resonant space to take the audience on a meditative and atmospheric journey through a unique and fascinating corner of sacred music, revived from Latin manuscripts and oral tradition. Spanning the course of the liturgical year, the ensemble dovetailed polyphonic and monodic chants – a mix of solo and ensemble pieces – singing from different points in the hall to create an eerie, overlapping sonic experience. Procession chants were performed in motion, recreating the sense of ceremonial gravitas.

Dialogos: Caroline Gesret, Aurore Tillac, Els Janssens-Vanmunster and Katarina Livljanić

Highlights included the Dialogos quartet’s sublimely haunting rendition of the 17th-century prayer Tota pulchra est Maria – arranged by the ensemble’s director, musicologist Katarina Livljanić and sung from the organ loft above the stage – and Kantaduri’s swinging U se vrime godišta, a traditional Christmas chant. Kantaduri’s director Joško Caleta led his arrangement of O, Bog se rodo, Vitlijanjo – a traditional Christmas Chant from Supertarska Draga on the island of Rab – from the floor below stage-right, the chant flavoured with melismatic dissonances and a tightly beating, insistent vibrato. Aurore Tillac’s full-toned performance of 13th-century Christmas Gospel In principium erat verbum brimmed with life while Els Janssens-Vanmunster’s rendition of the antiphon, Ego sum alpha et omega shone with crystalline purity.

While the ensemble created an atmosphere of spiritual reflection, the singers themselves performed with a vibrant energy and – despite the exposure of performing a capella – their pitch and balance were generally excellent. The overall experience of Dalmatica was one of spiritual contemplation – a respite from the frenzy of contemporary life and a chance to immerse oneself in the enigmatic harmonies of Croatian sacred music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Despite the concert running almost half an hour over time, the joyous encore Ispovidajte se Gospodinu, jer je dobar had the audience on their feet.