Review: Corking choirs

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The whole city of Cork was alive with choirs from all over the world last weekend - in concert halls, churches, hotel lobbies and shopping centres, and even on the streets. It was the 45th year of the Bord Gais Cork International Choral Festival, named after this year's principal sponsor, Ireland's Gas Board.

The kick-off was on a grand Victorian scale in the City Hall with a full- dress performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah by the RTE Philharmonic choir and orchestra, under Proinnsias O Duinn. The chorus was impressive, as were Ian Caddy in the title role and the Cork-born soprano, Cara O'Sullivan.

Spectator engagement was sharpened by competitions at all levels. Unaccompanied choral singing is alive and well in Slovenia, Austria, Latvia and Germany, as well as in the British Isles. Many of these choirs presented themselves admirably and sang from memory; it was often possible to anticipate the quality of a group of singers from the way they came on to the platform. Young, vigorous voices made the strongest impression by singing difficult contemporary works with amazing confidence. I shall long remember the Kamer from Latvia and the Junges Vokalensemble Hannover, both of whom won awards. But Ireland's own suave Lindsay Singers under Ethna Barror scooped the international trophy. As a contrast to the singing, the Cowhie- Ryan Irish Dance Group was colourfully costumed and deafening in its clog- dancing routines.

Non-competing visitors included the barbershop Cambridge Chord Company, whose Teddy Bears' Picnic, skilfully sung and virtually choreographed, was such a riot that everyone collapsed; eventually the performers could be seen but not heard. The London Oriana Choir appeared in costume for John Gardner's McPherson's Farewell and a waltz parody, The Men in Bowler Hats, by Richard Rodney Bennett.

The festival also showed its commitment to new music with three commissions for Dublin's Caintairi Oga Atha Cliath, the girls' choir directed by Brian O'Dubhghaill. The new pieces were Babel by Vic Nees, former director of the Flemish Radio Chorus; the neo-Bachian An das Angesicht des Herrn Jesu from the Cork composer Patrick Zuk; and Three Carols of my own. Each new work was performed three times at its own public seminar chaired by Professor David Harold Cox at Cork University. These occasions, supported by University College Cork and the British Council, gave listeners a good chance to get to know the new works. There was also a showcase for compositions produced by local schools.

At the final gala concert the results were announced, and the festival's director, John Fitzpatrick, conducted the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. This triumphal peroration, from an oratorio acclaimed in Dublin more than 250 years ago, concluded a memorable weekend.