Voyces is a group of 30-or-so young things directed by Dr Robert Braham and dedicated to high quality choral music. Five years in and Voyces has the hallmarks of a well-established group with a loyal following – their Saturday night concert at Government House Ballroom sold out! What really sets them apart is their emphasis on music by Australian composers and their concert was a window into the fabulous music currently being written for choral groups.

Vocyes. photo Nik Babic

The concert opened with a lively version of Waltzing Matilda by Ruth McCall, of Song Company fame. A chant in Aboriginal dialect set up a rhythmic dance feel which contrasted with spooky harmonies for “And his ghost can be heard…”. The choir sang with energy and proved themselves adept at harmonic overtone singing, a vocal technique requiring the singer to manipulate their vocal cavity to produce multiple sounds from the harmonic series. It gave an otherworldly feel and was part of the melting pot of ideas McCall drew on in this quirky piece.

The concert covered a wide variety of poetry including Henry Lawson’s On the Night Train, set by Joseph Twist who also wrote an haunting Lament using Latin text from Giacomo Carissimi’s oratorio Jephte and underpinned by a rhapsodic cello solo performed by Anna Sarcich.

Poetry by Perth’s Kevin Gillam was the inspiration for Iain Grandage’s Wheatbelt, a depiction of the troubled beauty of a rural landscape. The use of percussion and onomatopoeia to depict insects, wind and birds created an evocative sound world offset by the denseness of close harmonies. Printing Gillam’s lyrics in the program notes would’ve deepened the experience even further. Hush had similarly clever use of vocal percussion with Grandage’s characteristic fast rhythmic text settings bursting into soaring lyrical melodies.

As the program continued it became clear that the choir have a penchant for strong, enveloping soundscapes. Dan Walker’s Vast Sea. Sleeping Mother had a rocking string quartet accompaniment amplified by percussion, piano and long unsion vocal lines to create the vast rolling of the sea. Walker’s Hooves of Fate was the group’s first commission in 2015 and Walker’s bold nine-part choral writing and the pounding of hooves conveyed by the percussion packed a hefty dramatic punch. Until now the choir had been singing with a clean, contained quality but after interval the repertoire demanded more and Braham drew a broader, more symphonic choral sound from the group.

Ben Van Tienen’s accessible harmonic language in Across the Dark matched the direct whimsy of Leunig’s poetry. A tongue in cheek tango about the dangerous animal known as Australian politics (excellent piano accompaniment by Ann Clarke) had the audience chuckling while the thick homophonic sound of Lonely Mother Earth made a powerful lament. Van Tienen’s I Carry Your Heart With Me and Matthew Orlovich’s effervescent Butterflies Dance (which suffered occasional pitch issues) were gentle interludes. The concert concluded with the choir at full throttle for Orlovich’s dense setting of Judith Wright’s poem Night. A didgeridoo solo by Steve Richter established a weighty pulse and the piece unfolded with the ponderous density of Wright’s ‘great tree’ as four percussionists added their layers to the choir, creating a stunning orchestral density.

Voyces debut album Hush 

It’s clear Voyces like their concerts to be a vivid aural experience and the good news is now you can take it home with you; the concert marked the launch of their debut album Hush, featuring the all-Australian repertoire we heard at the concert in a crisp, warm recording.

The Hush album is available from www.voyces.com.au, iTunes, Spotify and Google Play.
Voyces next concert is Tundra on September 16th.