Noël! Noël!
Madison Nonoa s, Australian Brandenburg Choir, Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Paul Dyer hpsd/cond 
ABC Classics 4816490

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s Noël Noël has become something of a tradition for concertgoers in December, with programmes carefully thought out and musicianship at the highest of standards. This release, a live capture of the 2016 carol extravaganza, features emerging New Zealand soprano Madison Nonoa in impressive voice, one to watch out for indeed.

While it seems churlish to pick out a few favourites from a programme as cohesive as this one (no easy achievement, given that most Christmas-themed concerts are often a messy hotch-potch), listeners will relish Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo’s The Spheres from his mass Sunrise. All shifting textures, sinuous and elastic, the Brandenburg Choir are marvellous here, painting with a broad palette of colours and giving the impression of a forward, horizontal propulsion. The Orchestra are also brilliant, providing a spare accompaniment that judiciously builds in intensity and colour.

The Choir brings the same polish to Esenvalds’ O Salutaris Hostias, which sees Nonoa demonstrate an almost ascetic control to her singing, navigating the weaving, long vocal lines with ease. Her rich bright tone is also heard to advantage in Caccini’s Ave Maria, deeply felt but eschewing the sentimentality that plagues many similarly accomplished accounts. This finely judged restraint lends her rendition of Once in Royal David’s City a freshness to be admired, while the baroque trumpet accompaniment in the first verse is sensitively shaped, as eloquent as the vocalists.

Alex Palmer’s arrangement of the Coventry Carol is truly beautiful, as is Nonoa’s delivery – all stillness, with a sense of pouring forth rather than being produced that is stunning. This sombre tranquillity is somewhat marred by the rather plodding response of the men’s voices, a dramatic choice that is a bit too intrusive to be truly effective. This, however, is made up for by Nonoa’s easy ascent above the staff, losing none of the richness of her middle voice.

The playing of the Australian Brandenburg is exemplary throughout. Old chestnuts like Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Trumpets are thrillingly done, all spirit and verve without sacrificing clarity. A playful arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen by Alex Palmer provides a fun interlude, playing fast and loose with tempi and orchestral textures in a way that doesn’t tip into the tedious. Finally, the broad sweep of the Sonata á 9 is well brought off, with truly elegant playing from the strings at once measured and lively. Noël Noël is one tradition to hang on to.


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