What a wonderful surprise Lynn Cahill and the good people at Christ Church Cathedral served up last week with the Collegium Musicum – a student choir of over one hundred singers and an orchestra of fifty five. This large and talented group occupied about half the church, and while I initially thought the sound would be all over the place; the building seemed to absorb the sound creating a wonderful ambiance.

Arriving at the venue, you knew it was going to be something special as over a hundred people were snacking out of the back of a truck and a van. Everything was tidied up and groups of musicians gathered in the area in front of the City Engineers building and tuned up instruments.

The opening piece was a premiere; Nisi Gloria Sitis by Dutch contemporary composer, Marco C. de Bruin. This was a rich jazzy amalgam of styles with dramatic orchestral passages of brass and chimes. At times it was jazzy traffic sounds like in the movies with the choir in meditative mood with a touch of the Carmina Buranas.

They followed this with a thirty strong Chamber choir with Three Sacred Hymns from Schnittke, as successor of Shostakovich, who experimented with a range of sounds and styles. There was a spiritual Russian Orthodox sense to the hymns and it was a glorious experience.

Then we got the full orchestral effect of the fifty minute Stravinsky, Firebird Suite. Originally a ballet, this was a blast. Soft lyrical passages exploded into a shellshock of drums and brass in an urgent pounding exciting sound.

After the interval there was a Webern arranged by J.S. Bach, Ricercare that puzzled me but the choral work on Rachmaninov’s Liturgy Of St. John’s Chrysotom was special, with the rich brass and baritone voices blending with the high soprano notes. Still in a Russian mood, the combined group finished with a glorious cantata, St. John Of Damascus by Taneyen, a contemporary of Tchaikovsky and who later influenced a new breed of Soviet music.