Chamber Choir Ireland and Irish Chamber Orchestra at Christ Church Cathedral, 26 February 2017
For most, this evening’s performance is preceded by a trip to Christ Church Cathedral’s crypt, where a 14th century copy of the Magna Carta Hiberniae is on display. This legal document, originally issued in 1215 for the protection of the rights of free men, was the inspiration for Tarik O’Regan and Alice Goodman’s A Letter of Rights, the work which makes up the second half of tonight’s programme. Add to this the spacious reverberant acoustics, and the setting could not be more apt for Chamber Choir Ireland and the Irish Chamber Orchestra‘s concert.
Before A Letter of Rights, the combined forces of choir and orchestra perform Handel’s Dixit Dominus, a large-scale setting of Psalm 110. This early composition captures Handel at his most spirited, and conductor Paul Hillier guides the ensemble with assurance. The choir, in familiar surroundings, navigate the long lines and dramatic shifts of mood effortlessly, with alto soloist Laura Lamph notably skillful in the delivery of aria ‘Virgam virtutis tuae’.
The Irish Chamber Orchestra, playing two players to each line across five string sections, hit their stride in the second half; the occasional tuning insecurities in the Handel are swept aside in a convincing account of Tarik O’Regan’s modern score. Originally commissioned by Salisbury Cathedral in 2015 to mark the Magna Carta’s 800th year, Alice Goodman’s words take sections of the document translated from Latin, as well as exploring the initial preparation of the parchment and ink: “Everything begins with a sacrifice, the bloodshed behind the ink. Behind the Charter of Liberties.” O’Regan’s setting is harmonically grounded, with the real beauty in the detail of the writing such as the delicate percussion or complex string textures. The work could scarcely receive a finer treatment than we hear tonight, and highlights the success in combining these two accomplished Irish ensembles.