18 September 2017
Review by John Colwill

W. C. Fields’ maxim, “never work with animals or children” was roundly rejected by the Southern Consort of Voices in their delightful concert at the Hutton Theatre.
Their “Animal Crackers” programme, a menagerie of zoologically-themed choral works directed by Daniel Kelly, included solo items from some of Dunedin’s brightest young singers. All in all, an appealing entertainment. And to add to my enjoyment, the audience, though sadly scant, included a good number of under-5s whose interjections of delight, restlessness, and lack of restraint, reminded us of what music making is about: engagement and story-telling. This stimulating mix of young and not so young, out the front and in the audience, is a formula that I trust is fostered.

The Southern Consort’s renditions of Martin Wesley-Smith’s Freddie the Fish and The Elderly Elephant were spot on, sung with heart and a beautifully blended jazz sound.

So, too, was Jeff Moss’ Rubber Ducky from Sesame Street; it’s sad to think that this standard is no longer standard fare. Renditions of John Rutter’s Sing a Song of Sixpence and The Owl and the Pussy-Cat elicited exclamations of joy from several under-5s. A cappella choral diction was spot on. The soprano tone piped crystal clear, though the tenors were somewhat taxed in the Edward Lear arrangement.

David Hamilton’s Pangur Ban was saved by some sassy thinking from the trebles. Its sweet text I know from Samuel Barber’s Hermit Songs; it was good to hear another setting.

A particularly melting moment was Ralph Hunter’s arrangement of Little Bo Peep with piano accompaniment by Michael Winikoff and “Baa” interjections from all of us. We also got to join in The Hippopotamus, one of the three Flanders and Swann favourites. It featured the most accomplished of the young solo singers, Kieran Kelly, whose ability to project his love of performing, supported by clear tone and excellent diction is a most agreeable mix; in the right hands, Kieran could go far.

As for W. C. Fields, though he warned of working with children and animals, the IMDb website reminds us he secretly admired the former. I salute conductor, Daniel Kelly for including them.