Words and music
A Kiwi composition captures the emotions in others’ poetry.
Afine set of recent choral music by New Zealand composer Anthony Ritchie opens with The Survivor, based on Primo Levi’s famous poem of haunting memories of his companions lost in Auschwitz. This poignant and dramatic collection, Survivors, uses poetry that laments the losses of war, imprisonment and disaster.
The grittiest words are in Salaam, by four Guantánamo Bay prisoners. “O Sea, you taunt us in our captivity … you cruelly guard us.” Ritchie’s musical language softens these anguished poems, his vocal strands carefully placed in an unfolding texture that moves to endings of resignation.
Salaam was part of a collaboration with Ritchie and Belgian choir Aquarius and its musical director, Marc Michael de Smet. After performing Ritchie’s This sea we cross over, based on Jenny Bornholdt’s poem, the choir requested the longer work, then commissioned The Survivor, eventually recording this recital of Ritchie’s music.
The choral singing is exemplary, beautifully balanced with remarkable clarity of diction. Combined with Ritchie’s skilful word-setting, the performances express the powerful emotions explored in the poetry.
Themes ranging from the Wahine disaster to the South Island goldfields emerge from poems by New Zealanders Elena Poletti, Lorna Staveley Anker, Cilla McQueen, Sam Hunt and Denis Glover. Ritchie’s smoothly undulating choral language is broken up by more declamatory music in Bread, the middle of three Widow’s Songs by McQueen, and by welcome wit and rhythm in his setting of Hunt’s We Could Just Disappear. Glover’s forthright voice ends the collection strongly, with Ritchie responding to his blunt storytelling with spare harmonies and rhythmic chanting.
SURVIVORS, Anthony Ritchie, Aquarius Choir, Marc Michael de Smet (Atoll)