The Sydney Chamber Choir performing at their first concert for the year at the City Recital Hall,  Martin Place
The Sydney Chamber Choir performing at their first concert for the year at the City Recital Hall, Martin Place

The first Sydney Chamber Choir concert for 2014 collaborated with fine soloists and The Metropolitan Orchestra (TMO) to present musical ingenuity from over the past four and a half centuries. Guest conductor Richard Gill was faithful to every ground-breaking composer from each era. He wrought intelligent and measured performances not lacking in resounding climaxes and a wealth of nuance. The architecture and choices for instrumentation of each work were allowed to express themselves with clarity.

As usual, the choir commissioned a new work for its concert audience. Mary Finsterer’s “When Soft Voices Die” was initially to be a setting of liturgical text. A creative detour to use Romantic poetry in English language communicated tragedy in an expressive elegy, ingeniously scored. The blend of a single cor anglais against text sharing and shifting tone colours made this premiere one of the evening’s most chilling and memorable moments.

An a capella rendering of the third set of “ Lamentations” by Palestrina reminded us of why the Sydney Chamber Choir is a respected interpreter of the sixteenth century church music style. As with the more modern works of the night, the performance captured the essence of the era with refinement and integrity. This music’s gentle polyphony and ecstatic chordal declamations were in good hands and the vocal forces were well blended at all times.

The intimacy of Stravinsky’s Mass from the post-World War II period was a challenging but satisfying choice of style for this program. Mention must be made of the bold and clear lines woven around the choral texture by the ten wind players from the TMO. Articulation and accentuation was well emphasised by the instrumentalists. The balance with the vocal layer was always well maintained.

Gabriel Faure’s innovations and small scale expression was magnificently performed by TMO, the Sydney Chamber Choir and guest soloists. Once more, success of the inimitable work simply required an excellent attention to detail, seamless melodic lines, suitable forward-moving tempi and formidable grading of nuance towards climaxes. The conductor, choir and orchestra had already proved such capabilities, so this late nineteenth century mass was in safe hands.

Caron Chan’s sure-footed violin obligato sang safely in the stratosphere above the Sanctus movement. Belinda Montgomery’s “Pie Jesu” was sweetness with non-saccharine substance.

It seems Alexander Knight’s baritone voice keeps sounding fuller each time Sydney hears him. His enunciation of text is amongst the best one can hear. Knight’s tonal focus made Faure’s ‘Offertorium’ and ‘Libera Me’ profound moments of contrast to the full choruses.

This concert appeared close to Easter, and contained some seasonal Christian music. The decision to include innovative liturgical music from a range of compositional periods and musical function ensured variety and avoided stasis in the performance flow. It was a fitting start to the Sydney chamber Choir’s 2014 season. The high standard of choral singing will continue to entertain with an expansive range of choral music planned.

The Sydney Chamber Choir’s first concert for the year FAURE’S REQUIEM played the City Recital Hall, Martin Place, on Saturday 12th April.