SONGS OF REST was the second collaboration for 2015 between The Australian Haydn Ensemble and The Choir of St James’. The two groups also performed Bach’s ‘St John Passion’ in March.
In a nicely contrasted programme of works in Latin language, William Byrd’s expressive motet ‘Infelix Ego’ was surrounded by a different style of Mass from the brothers Haydn. The concert started with Franz Joseph Haydn’s ‘Missa Brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo’, known as the ‘Little Organ Mass’ (1775). Following the Byrd motet and interval, Johann Michael Haydn’s ‘Requiem in C minor’ was heard.
Haydn’s ‘Little Organ Mass’ was presented with the necessary clarity and simplicity of text delivery. As in both of the liturgical works, there was a superb balance between the orchestra and choir of fifteen singers. Shifting choral textures were equally well rendered. The vocal performances delivered strong tone colours and was rhythmically precise.
Also beautifully penetrating in the St James Church acoustic was the Benedictus movement of this work. The first of this concert’s guest soloists, soprano Ayşe Göknur Shanal, gave a controlled yet exciting performance of Haydn’s challenging vocal line.
The scored organ obbligato which inspired this work’s nickname was woven thoughtfully throughout by Australian keyboard virtuoso Neal Peres da Costa. His playing was subtle and sounded spontaneous above the texture.
The inclusion of English composer William Byrd’s sixteenth century motet ‘Infelix Ego’ added a new dimension to the text settings in this concert. The dense filigree of this non-liturgical work was a fine showcase for the choir, which performed in the highest part of the church space.
The singing of this work’s undulating polyphony delivered the martyr Friar Savonarola’s concerns with even complexity. Byrd’s a cappella setting unfolded at an ideal tempo and with exquisitely detailed nuance as led by director Warren Trevelyan-Jones.
After interval the choir, Australian Haydn Ensemble and soprano soloist were joined by tenor Richard Butler, alto Nicole Smeulders and bass Nicholas Dinopoulos. This formidable group presented Johann Michael Haydn’s Requiem in C minor (1771).
Written twenty years prior to Mozart’s Requiem in D minor K 626, Michael Haydn’s Requiem does share some audibly familiar elements with the later work. However, there are many differences between the works also.
The soloists in Haydn’s work elaborate the text together much earlier than in Mozart’s Requiem. Noticeably too, the sequence beginning with the Dies Irae is composed as one complete portion of music by Haydn. The choir and soloists constantly alternate throughout. Mozart divides the sequence text into separate dramatic portions in his version.
The vocal and orchestral forces here presented the clarity of all movements in Michael Haydn’s work with seamless and facile dramatic poise. This clear yet intense performance included an increase in the profound level of expression for the work’s final Agnus Dei and Communio. Fugal sections were crisp and light. They were in keen contrast to moments of previous homophonic warmth.
The Offertorium possessed an energetic and attractive lilt. Trevelyan-Jones extracted even more colours and contours from orchestra and singers in the Sanctus and Benedictus sections.
This performance for one concert only was a fine interpretive collaboration between the two groups with vocal soloists. Subscription concerts for both The Australian Haydn Ensemble and The Choir of St James’ continue later this year.
The Australian Haydn Ensemble will offer a concert of solo cantatas at three locations during September, featuring soprano Taryn Fiebig. The Choir of St James’ are joined by Yvonne Kenny for a concert on September 10.
For more about Songs of Rest – Australian Haydn Ensemble, visit http://www.australianhaydn.com.au