Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Pretoria comes to London: TUKS Camerata and VOCES8 present the closing concert at 2022’s Spitalfields Festival

13 July 2022

Musical hemispheric crossover delights in London.


VOCES8 & TUKS Camerata with conductor Michael Barrett (Photo: James Berry)

Some recorded concerts are just that: a concert with audience that happens to be captured via microphone and camera. Wednesday’s final concert of the Spitalfields Music Festival at Christchurch Spitalfields was, sadly, not one of these: from stewards requesting everyone on arrival to switch off their Bluetooth, and the boom camera with trailing wires hanging over the back rows, to the huge microphone array obstructing the view of the centre of the stage, one was made to feel that audience members were an inconvenience to be suffered by the recording engineers.

Notwithstanding this, the concert was generally enjoyable, and, in particular, it was a delight to hear the wall of sound produced by the exceedingly well-trained 40-plus-strong TUKS Camerata, formed of students from the University of Pretoria, who joined the 8-singer professional vocal group VOCES8 as part of the latter’s outreach programme.

The concert was somewhat of a mixed bag of items pulled together under the catch-all title ‘Hope’, with individual sets by VOCES8 and TUKS, and a third set of the two together – this latter, somewhat disappointingly, missing the opportunity for arrangements of a ‘concerto grosso’ nature (with the eight voices of VOCES8 acting as a kind of concertino group); presumably repertoire and rehearsal time ruled this out. While none of the items was less than excellently performed, I’d question the presence of the two purely ‘classical’ numbers there – Byrd’s Haec Dies and Bruckner’s Os justi – the material of the rest of the concert was arrangements of traditional, folk, or popular songs (even the Bach Bourée was an old Swingles jazz adaptation), and the rather staid (albeit masterful) compositions of ‘dead white European men’ tended to apply the atmospheric brakes a little.

“…it was a delight to hear the wall of sound…”


TUKS Camerata (Photo: James Berry)

VOCES8 are perhaps at their best when singing popular arrangements (their ‘classical’ repertoire can come over a little too generically chocolate-box-like), and there was no disappointment here, from the clever pairing of the two quietly contemplative pieces Heyr himna smiður by Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson and an arrangement of Mumford & Sons’ Timshel, through the aforementioned Swingle Bach arrangement (given just the right degree of froth and finished with the kiss of a beatbox brush cymbal) and the slick swing of Nat ‘King’ Cole’s Straighten Up and Fly Right, to the brilliantly co-ordinated fancy footwork of a Come Fly With Me/Fly Me to the Moon mash-up.

The astonishing discipline of blend, dynamic and tempo of TUKS Camerata was evident from the opening of their set with Chris Lamprecht’s Aandgesang, an anthemic piece given even more of an emotional punch by the choir lining the church walls, entirely surrounding the audience. The build and fade of Dan Forrest’s The Sun Never Sets were adroitly handled, and Stacey Gibbs’s arrangement of the spiritual Way Over in Beulah Lan’ was given a highly nuanced performance (those rapid, emphatic crescendi/decrescendi were perfectly executed). It was the music of TUKS Camerata’s homeland we were here for, though, and they gave us it in full tear-jerking measure in the two arrangements of the traditional Tshela Moya/Ke nna yo Morena and Swilo yini, the powerfully simple harmonic shifts in the homophony underscored by rhythmic potency, and ornamented with gesture and body language.

Of the joint sets, the three most enjoyable items were an arrangement of Kate Rusby’s Underneath the Stars (featuring a solo tenor from TUKS Camerata accompanied by everyone else in a perfect example of controlled quiet singing from many voices), a return to the South African tradition with Indodana, a Xhosa take on Stabat Mater, and Jake Runestad’s moving Let My Love Be Heard, full of the gentle undulation of the upper voice parts and precisely judged spacing of phrases.

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