Review: Cork in perfect harmony for Choral Festival

Cheep Trill from Australia performing at Blarney Castle on Day 3 of the 65th Cork International Choral Festival 2019. The Festival takes place until Sunday and features hundreds of performances with more 5000 singers in over 90 venues across Cork City and County, including gala concerts, national and international competitions, school concerts, workshops, seminars, and free outdoor performances. Photo: Jed Niezgoda.

The friendly fellowship of voices united in pouring out their songs in perfect harmony in a weekend of idyllic sunshine made Cork the most agreeable place to be over the weekend for the city’s International Choral Festival.

Restored to its traditional May bank holiday after last year’s Ed Sheeran-inspired blip, there was a sense of the long established event emerging triumphant in its 65th year.

A near capacity house gathering in City Hall for the final gala concert, closing the festival which brought more than 5,000 performers to a hundred venues across the city and county in a bumper five days of music- making.

Following a solid opening set from Cork Ceoltóirí Mhuscraí, a collective comprising singers, instrumentalists and dancers, we heard 11 excellent choirs including all three winners of the Fleischmann International Trophy.

Scandinavia was well represented. The Women’s Choral Society of the University of Oslo brought a welcome element of spectacle with their colourful traditional costumes and drew the loudest cheers from the house.

Of the three Finnish choirs, the Helsinki Academic Male Voice Choir in tails, sashes and shiny shoes were most impressive adding a theatrical flourish to a drinking song by Poulenc.

The 60-strong Hamburg Academy of Music and Theatre Choir were stunning and presented one of the few songs in English from the international contingent.

In the absence of translations, I wished that the continuity announcements would include some context on the song texts.

There was gorgeous hush in the Mornington Singers haunting rendition of Michael McGlynn’s arrangement of ‘The Flower of Maherally’ featuring the clear voice of tenor Ciarán Fennelly.

Earlier in the afternoon, St Fin Barre’s Cathedral hosted the church music competition where the winners, UCC Singers under Ben Jacob, brought us moments of blissful calm in Kim André Arnesen’s ‘Even When He Is Silent’.

In a gracious closing address, director John Fitzpatrick reflected on the development of the festival from a two day event in 1954 with 11 choirs and three folk dance troupes to the vibrant and prestigious festival of 2019. Bravo. Indeed, “a lesson for our time.”

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