Above and featured: Conductor and Artistic Director, Sam Allchurch with Sydney Chamber Choir. Photo: supplied.
One of the most attractive aspects of the face of innocence is directness. It communicates with gentle freshness an analysis of the world, realising the challenges and emotions associated with the status quo.
Doing this repeatedly builds history, strength and experience. In the case of Sydney Chamber Choir, a fresh enthusiasm for the treasures lurking in Franco-Flemish church music from the 1500s and the premiering of new local works over the past forty-seven years have created moments for us rich in both strong innocence and a beautiful build of experience.
This recent concert from the choir celebrated such overlaps of music history, directness, language, culture, social comment and pace. Humour, complexity and comment on our developing community collided with biblical intensity and church tradition.
This concert’s continual to-and-fro shifts in time, language and style built effect rather than being jarring. They highlighted the specialist areas of skill from this choir as it conquered once more challenges of adventurous text settings, balance between voice part and the conveying of deep emotion quickly to the audience.
The programme was full of SCC favourites from concert decades past. The litany of impressive works from Australian composers included a new inspired piece from Ella Macens commissioned for this event.
Above: Composer Ella Macens
When the World Closes It’s Eyes by Macens was as rewarding in its timeless melodic and harmonic newness and as it was in its refreshing clarity of tender message. SCC presented its inventive and flexible shifts in choral techniques as the text of resilience and vulnerability instantly endeared itself to us.
The setting of English words to music, especially modern blank verse or cleverly parsed phrases requires great compositional and performance skill. SCC showcased five other composers who demonstrate their genius in this way through their works. The choir deliciously offered up the incisive protest, caricature or commentary in these pieces.
The precision required for angular rhythmic motifs, melodic trajectories and text morphing in these modern works was no problem for this choir. The compelling social themes of refugees, urban development, mixed race identity and our treatment of the environment were boldly presented in language and repeatedly moved the assembled.
The concert began with the sobering warning of Brenda Gifford’s Minga Bagan urging us to look after the land we exist on. Dhurga and English text and an atmospheric, stillnes of choral voice were well harnessed by conductor Sam Allchurch and choir. The alternation between sixteenth, twentieth and twenty first centuries followed.
SCC’s proficiency in the polyphonic and church music context was ably demonstrated with gems from its repertoire. Layering and part singing in the church music saluting Mary or biblical drama filled the excellent Space of The Nielsen with gorgeous contour and variation of attack.
Above : Conductor and Artistic Director Sam Allchurch. Photo : supplied.
The music from older eras drew on the choir’s repertoire of Josquin des Prez (Ave Maria…virgo serena), Jean de Ockeghem (Alma redemptoris mater) Antoine Brumel (Sicit lilium) as well as Guillaume Dufay (his Flos Florum from a small vocal group reverberating from the venue’s gallery). These non-mass, non secular offerings were well chosen to show a wide variety of choral writing , colours and techniques of the time, and the unaccompanied excellence of this choir.
Percussion and piano accompanied some of the modern colour and text. It was rewarding to see the choir’s versatility. Swift switches in style from Renaissance to to statements from Stephen Adams in his clever word play setting the word-blitz poetry of Ania Walwicz in his memory pieces (1995) were smooth and fluid. Word reiterations and phrase fragmentation in this modern work were ably tossed across the choir as it focussed on landmarks lost to development.
The forward-looking choral atmospheres and twisting, uniqueness of single instrumental line accompaniment was blended with penetrating virtuosity in Joe Twist’s Wonga Vine (from An Australian Song Cycle,2021). This figurative landscape delighted. Also stunningly championed and celebrated from the SCC archive was Ross Edwards’ Flower Songs. The rhythmic and textural complexities of this joyous recreation of nature buzzed brilliantly, ensuring its popularity to continue and difficulties to be always conquered by Sydney Chamber Choir.
The power of choral music to recreate personal predicament and heartbreaking humanity resonated through the space as well as touching the hearts of the audience as we heard the provocative chants of Josephine Gibson’s Let them All Come (2018) delivered in joyous angry protest against the ‘stop the boats’ movement in our recent history. Dan Walker’s portrait of activist and educator Alice Eather in the poignant setting of words from her poem Yúya Karrabúra was a very touching performance.
These two ‘hear-a-pin-drop’ moments were just one of several such instances during this event. Congratulations to Sydney Chamber Choir for a quality retrospective, celebrating the power of music from the sixteenth century and recent times. This choir shone, using their skill to communicate such a range of stories with such polished verve.