Concert Review: Embers – Encore Performance

Fresh new choral riffs

Presented by: EnHarmonics
Reviewed: 6 August, 2023

In a funky little setting just right for their mix of musical genres and vocal qualities, EnHarmonics repeated their premiere season Embers concert which not enough of us saw earlier this year.  Unley’s Warehouse Theatre, a charming mixture of St Kilda grunge and spot-on tech. specs., is just the right home for this vocal ensemble and its distinctive sound. 

Born from the awarded and widely-respected Voice of Transition vocal group, this bunch of 15 young adults presented 13 songs in a solid hour of vocal music. Some songs were performed unaccompanied.  For some, adroit accompaniment was provided by Ty Robinson on electric piano. One piece was performed to a backing track. But each song was the product of a vocally unified group which functions without a conductor. This form of vocal performance demands much rehearsal and aural discrimination skills of a high order.  The high level of aural and vocal proficiency already attained by this fledgling choral group is testament to its choral director and principal vocal arranger, Kim Spargo.

Musical and theatrical variations ensured that the programme engaged and maintained the attention of its audience throughout the performance. Pop, rock, gospel and music theatre genres were represented, the playlist including composers as diverse as Stevie Wonder, Rick Springfield, Sara Bareilles, Duncan Sheik and Jonathan Larson. While the presentation was mercifully free of show-choir choreography, theatricality was carefully considered. Singers were moved around the space throughout the show. Sometimes they surrounded the audience. (The bijou venue was used to advantage with each singer standing on the periphery of the audience, holding a candle, with all stage and house lighting out.) Some numbers were performed by a small section of the group. Every group member was given an opportunity to speak to the audience as they introduced songs, enabling unique personalities to shine. Dress code was black-and-white, resulting in fashions as diverse as the performers themselves. Lounge suits, butch studs, sparkles, overalls, snappy braces, T-shirts and bow-ties… but all in black and white. The message of diversity was easily read.

Performance highlights included an ultra-sharp full-group starter, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, creamy solo work from Joe Walker on the delicate When She Loved Me, the rumbling V12 engine sound of a securely resonant bass line in Run To You, clever key changes in Jessie’s Girl, and a joyfully rocking Gospel feel on Amazing Grace. Kahli Lanthois brought just the right amount of melisma to her authoritative solo in Mama Who Bore Me; the edgy harmonies of the arrangement were especially well handled by the choir. Both Peter Huttenmeister and Gabbi King nailed their solos in Hallelujah, while King, Sarah Footner and Meg Folland shone in The Colour Purple.  And in the encore, Seasons Of Love, Folland was the cherry on top. Notable throughout the evening was the dynamic range of the vocal group, with disciplined gradations between mouse-quiet and industrial-quality loud, with no vocal strain evident.

A word about vocal arrangement, an arcane task not always well-handled. Arrangements for all but one of the programme’s pieces were done by Kim Spargo. (Somewhere Only We Know was effectively arranged by a former member of Voice of Transition, Blake Trenorden.) Spargo’s arrangements are entertaining, risky, musically interesting, and tailored for her group of young, developing and maturing voices.  This is an art in itself.

This new choral group is just setting out; there are areas which need attention and development.  Some group members are more comfortable with speaking and moving on stage than others. Much of this will get sorted as they continue to work together. They are already listening carefully to each other and working cohesively. The musical term “enharmonic” refers to musical notes which may be notated differently but sound exactly the same.  The philosophy behind this serves the EnHarmonics well – no matter how old they are, what they look like or where they shop, their sound is beautifully unified.  And that is in large part the result of Kim Spargo’s continuing work with them as choral director and arranger.  

Reviewed by Pat H. Wilson

Photo credit: supplied

Venue: The Warehouse Theatre, 8 (rear) Unley Road, Unley
Season: ended
Duration: 1 hour

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