Above: Guest conductor, Brett Weymark. Featured image: The Sydney Chamber Choir.
This concert showcased the Sydney Chamber Choir at its dramatic best. The group’s stunning vocal precision, capacity for warmth of tone and command of textual detail ensured quality delivery of Britten’s cantata Saint Nicolas Op 42 and a collection of short, evocative sacred works to fill the concert’s first half.
The thorough realisation of Britten’s music and narrative sweep was a true highlight of this event. Reflecting the origins of this work as a composition for the centenary celebrations of Lancing College in 1948, the choir was joined by school-age voices and instrumentalists.
This young talent came from the NSW Public Schools Junior and Senior Singers, Santa Sabina College Chamber Choir and the NSW Public Schools Percussion Ensemble. Student Shirley Zhu was joined by Katherine Day on Piano
Such collaboration brought with it exciting energy. A small and confidently spoken string ensemble (Anna McMichael and Stephen Freeman-violins, Nicole Forsyth-viola, Anita Gluyas-cello and Theo Small– double bass) joined the student percussion and focussed piano duet to manage Britten’s atmospheric requirements in excellent fashion.
Guest conductor Brett Weymark (Sydney Philharmonia Choirs) harnessed all forces and the participation of the audience for hymn singing to present this varied work with clarity and poignant momentum.
Also pivotal to the success of Britten’s cantata was tenor Richard Butler’s penetrating plaintiveness in the role of Nicholas. Text and emotional development were delivered clearly and with appropriate passion. We were taken on an interestingly coloured vocal excursion as the dialogue and description of Nicolas’ acts or miracles reverberated around the Sydney University Great Hall space.
Effective staging for various characters and character groups was also dramatically pleasing. Use of the back of the venue and the centre worked well. Female voices singing lined up the side of the hall as mothers of the soon to be resurrected Pickle Boys brought the audience very close to their laments and the story.
This successful re-enactment of Britten’s formidable cantata in some ways made it tempting to want a programme with a large work of similar nature balance and flesh out the programme’s first half also. This concert began instead with a collection of shorter pieces from composers various. Perhaps one extended early sacred or secular dramatic piece would have reflected the larger Britten work well.
However, in the collection of works opening the concert we had the chance to hear from Sydney Chamber Choir sacred settings of music by none other Hildegard von Bingen, Hans Leo Hassler Bach and Buxtehude in a blend of clear and precise performance with a satisfying degree of religious drama.
Apart from the fine choral interpretation, Edwin Taylor’s continuo organ accompaniment was a highlight throughout this half of the concert, as was the string ensemble joining Sydney Chamber Choir soloists and choir for the exquisite setting of the Magnificat attributed to Buxtehude, which was exquisitely performed.
The Ave generosa chant of Hildegard von Bingen was pure atmosphere with which to begin the event, once again using the venue space well with a procession-style entry of voices above Nicole Forsyth’s solo viola.
The next Sydney Chamber Choir concert on the evening of Saturday October 7 promises to please once more. It includes a performance of Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas and smaller works by Monteverdi, Palestrina and Marenzio. This concert will be conducted by Roland Peelman and features the early music ensemble The Muffat Collective.