Words and mu­sic

A Kiwi com­po­si­tion cap­tures the emo­tions in oth­ers’ po­etry.

New Zealand Listener - - BOOKS & CULTURE - By EL­IZ­A­BETH KERR

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)

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