Carl Vine on Amarcord
This is a story of five young boys, totalitarian regimes in East Germany, and an extraordinary building. Music runs through this story for eight hundred years, landing, at the dénouement, on the western coast of Australia on the 16th of July with an early evening soirée in Perth, before a nation-wide concert tour by the vocal ensemble Amarcord.
St Thomas Church in Leipzig is profoundly significant to Amarcord. Although the original building is older, the church’s choir first sang there in the year 1212AD, and has survived monumental upheavals, including the rule of both the Third Reich and the German Democratic Republic, while fostering some of the world’s most sublime music and producing a steady stream of first-rate musicians. It must be noted that Johann Sebastian Bach, the cantor (choral director) of the church from 1723 until his death in 1750, still lies quietly in its graveyard.
All five members of Amarcord are alumni of this illustrious choir. They are acutely aware of the magnificent history behind them, and justifiably proud of a musical ancestry that includes local luminaries such as Schumann and Mendelssohn. Growing up under a totalitarian regime also lends a singular worldly quality to the group’s outlook, and a wry sense of knowing humour that is evident in both the canny choice of repertoire and its occasionally idiosyncratic presentation!
In clear reverence to the epochs through which their ‘birth choir’ survived and thrived, the two programs chosen by the singers each span five centuries of vocal composition – madrigal, caccia, lied, chanson, villanesca, frottola, part-song, folksong and much in between – all is grist for the musical mill driven by their love of singing together.
As for the name ‘Amarcord’, this is a tribute to Fellini’s great film bearing that name, using the word from his native Romagnian dialect meaning ‘I remember’. As bass Holger Krause explains, ‘we remember our childhood, we remember the tradition … the periods and epochs we have in our repertoire’. There can be few historical compendia of music more personal than this.