Among boys' choirs, the Drakensberg Choir stands out for a couple of remarkable features - its sense of freedom, and its lack of inhibition. The sound is pure, beautiful and clear, without self-consciousness or any sense of manufacturing or overcontrolling the tone. You feel that each singer is placed just where he should be, according to quality and ability and capacity. Among low voices, baritone quality is already apparent; but the mix of sound leaves no doubt that this is a boys' choir, allowed to make the most of adolescent changes as they come about.
Under the excellent Ashley-Botha, the group displayed a wide-ranging repertory, beginning with sacred baroque and classic selections, notable for their technical clarity, their precision, clean attack and release and ingratiating musicality."Windows on the World," an international group, was highlighted by a little cuckoo song from Poland, whose rhythm was marked without being square; a couple of dance tunes of Spanish appeal, and a soothing, lilting song from Taiwan, all arranged by Ashley-Botha.
Among the good soloists, Jacques Imbrailo stood out for clean and beautiful work in a Haydn Kyrie, and a mind-blowing Queen of the Night aria from Mozart's "Magic Flute," with Fs above high C. What a pity that boy soprano-ness is such a fleeting gift!
But in this varied program the thing that most intrigued the near-capacity audience was a large body of African music, again arranged by Ashley-Botha, and accompanied by unusual percussion, pipes, gourds and bells. Changing to T-shirts, the boys threw themselves into the work and dance songs of South Africa's black culture, with ingenious partial staging (though one had hoped to see more blacks among the singers - only four among a choir of 38).
There was hoeing and digging, and "Molo Molo," a dance to primitive drumbeats. There was "Nstikana's Bell," a missionary song, which on Sundays called the congregation to worship. In "Night Sounds of the African Veld" the singers realistically duplicated insects, bird and animal calls, breezes, and even a fussy baby, later soothed by a lullaby. Chants and dances of the Zulu and Xhosa were presented with exuberant vitality, both in sound and movement.