The a capella harmonies of the Voice trio moved me in ways which I have to describe as incorporeal. I felt as I sometimes feel on a long walk in nature, a poignant longing to float up and out of my own old, achy and impossibly heavy body and into the insubstantial air, where in this case their sublime notes were coalescing and waving around us.
At the opening of the concert the three wonderful singers Victoria Couper, Emily Burn and Clemmie Franks strode with calm confidence and presence into the room and took their positions spaced around us, opening with a stunning performance of St. Hildegard’s 12th century psalm antiphon 'Caritas Habundat' enhanced by the surround sound effect.
The trio then took the stage to continue with the title piece of the event, Emily Levy’s 'How Sweetly You Burn'. I was struck by the variety of overlapping tempos and tones employed by the three, who confidently played with the combined effects of their striking vocal talents, exchanging what seemed to be joyous looks with one another and the audience as they explored their collective tonality. The overall feel of the piece was to me somehow austere and ancient, despite having been composed in 2014.
These amazing young women Couper, Burn and Franks seem as if their voices fit perfectly within and alongside one another, and indeed I discovered in speaking with them later that they first sang together at the tender age of twelve.
The three singers seemed so united, so familiar with one another’s strengths, and the harmonies they summoned were breathtaking. They seemed also in this piece to have the confidence to play with the boundaries of dissonance, and extremes of pitch which made the whole piece very interesting. What followed was a transition to a much more familiar territory with a triad of three traditional anonymous English folk pieces which I found reassuring and enchanting. The audience were so moved and hushed they hardly knew when to start clapping!
The important emphasis throughout this performance was the underrepresentation of women in the Arts, and while many pieces carried a serious, sometimes solemn tone, many took us to joyous spaces of transcendence, while others were gaily down to earth and even rambunctious, such as the thigh-slapping intro to the lyrically raunchy folk tune 'Lovely Joan' concerning a woman who turns the tables on the man preying on her perceived vulnerability, and steals his horse and gold ring with which he’s in the act of trying to buy her “maidenhead”. There was laughter from the audience, as well as many an appreciative murmur throughout the evening.
There were moments of poetry, of narrative explanation from the three, interspersing their golden notes, and as Couper held the stage and Burn and Franks took to the sides of the room again at the interval to treat us to another surround sound performance, this time of Stevie Wishart’s 'O Choruscans Lux Stellarum'. I envisioned three sirens, with the strength and posture of three lighthouses, protecting and casting light across the intervening space. Indeed, they were three muses for the audience tonight, and I was often reminded of the casting of light as their sound waves issued and reflected about the space.
The performances were technically immaculate, once or twice preceded by a professional flick of a tuning fork to an ear, and I repeatedly felt that they were somehow petitioning the audience in their earnest and heartfelt presentation of their art. Standout items in the second half for me included 'Nightfall', with a hauntingly beautiful refrain about the whiteness of snow, a triad of traditional love songs during which I felt this longing for an out-of-body experience, and 'Unde Quocumque' from St. Hildegard of Bingen which felt as if washes of light were pouring across us.
The trio closed out the event with a playful piece entitled 'The Dig Dag Song' which involved clapping, whispering, and much rhythmic play, and somehow gently broke the spell which had settled upon us through the evening. The Voice trio’s bows and exits were treated to much deserved and quite literally rapturous applause.