Above : Musical Director and conductor of Sydney Chamber Choir, Sam Allchurch. Photo supplied. Featured image: members of Sydney Chamber Choir. Photo credit for for featured image: Pedro Greig

Sydney Chamber Choir opened its 2019 season with a joyous and diverse celebration of choral music spanning over five centuries. Titled ‘Music on Music’, the event delivered layers of choral composition from early music through to the innovative current day, The use of similar text or musical concepts across time reappeared in new guises throughout.

From the concert’s outset, newly appointed Musical Director and specialist choral conductor Sam Allchurch brought out a seamless blend from the combined talent of the choir.  Lush and warm singing delighted from the first phrase of Herbert Howells’  A Hymn for St Cecilia which opened the concert.

A recurring theme of the evening was the joy of music, and the need to sing to deal with existence in a complex world during any century. The use of text from Psalm 137 : “How can We Sing the Lord’s Song in a Foreign Land”, documenting the predicament of Jewish people needing to sing praise as captives in Babylon.

This text of this Psalm was heard presented in a densely polyphonic setting by Byrd. This was immediately followed by Australian composer Joseph Twist’s How Shall We Sing in a Strange Land?

This modern use of the Latin Psalm text introduced the sentiment of displacement within a setting of modern poetry by Noonuccal woman Oodgeroo.

Sydney Chamber Choir communicated complex emotions and predicament clearly here. Such intensity from juxtaposition via a ‘music on music’ layering beside Byrd’s sixteenth century version led to enhanced drama and creation of a multi-faceted concert environment.

Twist’s powerful eclectic work in English and Latin with words of an Aboriginal poet was delivered by the choir with inimitable care. The stillness and textural delicacy was beautifully handled by this choir, and especially by soprano soloist Josie Gibson.

The programme thereafter  underwent a fluid shift back from our time to the Baroque in proof that complex choral fare from early music times can be devoured by this choir equally as impressively as music full modern innovation.

More psalm text was heard elsewhere with dense double-choir polyphony in Bach’s Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied-the text ‘Sing to the Lord a New Song’ by JS Bach (1726). Throughout this motet the choir drenched us with busy counterpoint which always managed a skilful lightness and momentum. A quartet of soloists from the choir varied the texture in this work and showed off more individual talent within the choir’s ranks.

Above: Sydney Chamber Choir members, 2019. Photo credit: Pedro Greig.

The inside cover of the deliciously detailed printed concert programme suggested reasons we should be audience for the choir in 2019. Amongst them was ‘come to immerse yourself in beauty’. This was the case with this successful interpretation of Bach.

Amongst many lush moments of beauty here and elsewhere  for early music modern composers, the performance of the Kyrie from Palestrina’s Missa Ut re mi fa so la, performed surrounding the front of the audience in a single line arc with all voice parts mixed. The blend of vocal parts in this format was exquisite.

From the same printed programme cover, the audience are urged to ‘come to hear something you’ve never heard before’. This could be said for many of contemporary works by Eliott Carter (Musicians Wrestle Everywhere) Elliot Gyger (Ut queant laxis) and Paul Stanhope (Cherubic Hymn).

Sydney Chamber Choir here showcased its proficiency in virtuosic rendering of contemporary or twentieth century composers’ innovation for the genre, musical homage to choral music of the past and ambitious demands on voices to master effects needing great control in timbre, nuance and colour to convey text musically.

The choir was often combined with organist Joshua Ryan’s fine playing of innovative keyboard fragments against the choir in these works. The organist and vocalists worked hard and well in these and all works in the concert to achieve a dazzling and joyous sonic tapestry as well as fine promotion for this group’s communicative skill. The effectiveness of compelling utterances fashioned by composers both old and new was also on exciting display in this concert.

During this event, choir and conductor continued to create layers of timeless text and music packages from contrasting eras with equally successful result. This formidable start to 2019 left us craving more music on music to come. We listened with the confidence that as audience to these choristers we will continue to be deeply touched and taught so much.