TWELVE SINGERS WITH TREMENDOUS VOCAL POWER – Review of Grace Notes, Lobberich Germany

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Lobberich. Christian music from Europe and Africa presented by the Cape Town Opera Chorus in the Catholic Parish Church of St. Sebastian. The singers convinced both with the power of their voices and their presence.

To date, the South African Cape Town Opera Chorus has performed in two locations in Germany on their European tour. One was Nettetal. Compliments! The day before, the small but powerful chorus gave a concert in Trier.

The fact that the Werner Jaeger Halle was not available, at least for the interim, due to necessary reno-vations was well handled. The choir came with their sacred concert programme “Grace Notes” to the St. Sebastian Parish Church in Lobberich instead and gave an impressive performance in front of well-filled pews.

Those who feared that the small choir, consisting of six female and six male voices, might be too thinly toned for the large church, saw to be more precise: heard and learnt differently very soon. It may be a slight exaggeration to say that even during the solo contributions by individual choir members one might have feared for the safety of the church windows. However, the vocal power of the chorus members was imposing from the outset.

Not that volume was confused with tonal beauty. On the contrary, an impressive vocal cultivation was experienced. The intonation was splendidly clean, and even within complex harmonies there was neither impurity nor uncertainty. The volume levels were carefully differentiated.

Marvin Kernelle, who was appointed conductor of this choir in 2014, is responsible for the precise training. During the concert he was very discreet; he did not put on a show. Since the entire programme sung from memory was performed a cappella, he briefly set the key before each piece and then conducted with sparse gestures. More was not necessary, because the chorus members know their voices and their parts and listened carefully to each other.

The individual items were precisely arranged. The twelve singers always positioned themselves differently, changing positions while mostly near the altar area. In the Bach chorale “Komm, süßer Tod” (“Come, sweet death”), which Norwegian Knut Nystedt had arranged, the singers were spread out across the entire church, far apart from each other, without the generous distribution endangering the musical cohesion.

However, there was one disappointment: it is regrettable that there were neither printed programmes nor an explanatory presentation for the audience. Of course, one noticed that the Cape Town Opera Chorus performed a stylistically varied programme and that the singers also performed various pieces in different languages. However, with more information it would have been possible to have an even richer experience.

The aforementioned Bach Chorale “Komm, süßer Tod” was sung in German and Anton Bruckner’s “Ave Maria” was heard in Latin in the Catholic Parish Church. Most of the songs were sung in English. Texts and structural elements of Christian music from both the European and African cultures were an important consideration for the programmers. The regional roots of African spiritual music were not disregarded and songs were performed in the traditional languages.

“Bawo, Thixo Somandla” was the first title on the programme. This is a Zulu traditional song and means “Gott, Allmächtiger Vater” in German. Other African languages were also included in the concert. “Ke nna yo morena” is a Sotho traditional song entitled “Here I am Lord, I have arrived”.

One title, one suspects, was from very old European music. It was a sophisticated arrangement by Giovanni Palestrina of Psalm 42: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.”

The guests from South Africa thanked the audience for their extended, enthusiastic applause. Only after several encores did they leave St. Sebastian. They will also perform in the cathedral in St. Poelten, Austria.