Sydney Chamber Choir: Passion and Resurrection @ The Great Hall

Sydney Chamber Choir-Inset

With Easter approaching, the Sydney Chamber Choir’s performance titled PASSION AND RESURRECTION at the Great Hall, Sydney University, combined a number of classical and modern compositions inspired by this important event in the Christian calendar. It forms part of the 2015 concert cycle to celebrate the Choir’s 40th anniversary titled ‘Life Begins At 40’.

It also served as the last performance of the Choir’s longstanding Musical Director Paul Stanhope, who has been instrumental in shaping the Choir to merge the classical traditions with modern currents and thus ensure that the Choir retains its beautiful choral characteristics but also incorporates a modern edge.

The concert started with a choreographed masterstroke, having groups of choir members placed at the four sides of the hall, thus giving a dramatic and very spatial, almost physical aspect to Cristobal Morales’ ‘Parce mihi, Domine’. The Choir members then moved ceremonially to the front of the Hall where Joseph Twist’s world premiere ‘Ubi caritas’ was delivered with a thrilling modern swing, giving a mood of celebratory redemption. It was a fantastic opening one-two salvo.

By Orlando di Lasso’s ‘Lagrime di San Pietro’ I was fully enveloped in the uplifting and gorgeous singing of the Choir, drifting upon vocal waves to those ineffable yet special places that only the collective human voice can lead to.

Throughout the concert, the Choir used thrilling and effective ranges of vocal techniques and styles to continuously provide an interesting idea or effect and make every part of the concert special.

James MacMillan’s ‘Miserere’ was a moving and desultory piece which started with a very effective sonorous tenor and bass chant and gradually ebbed and flowed to its proclamatory climax. An excerpt of Carlo Gesualdo’s ‘Tenebrae Responsories for Good Friday’ followed and again, both, the selection of the composition or the singing, could not be faulted.

The first part of the program finished with another modern piece, Brenton Broadstocks’s ‘The resurrection’. Again, it showed how effective and stimulating the combination of old and new, classical and modern, can be and it encapsulated nicely the Easter themes of despair and hope, redemption and renewal. It was a riveting performance with the recurring high soprano motif giving an almost unearthly experience, like rays of sound leading up to heaven. Magical!

The second part started with Paul Stanhope’s ‘Elegies and Dances’ performed by the very youthful and exuberant Sydney Camerata. This maintained the mood and inspiration of the Easter spirit, with the sombre elegiac opening being gradually confronted and taken over by the up tempo dance sections before finishing with a returning echo of the opening elegiac motifs. The performance also presented a nice balance as it offset the Choir’s presence during the first half of the concert with an instrumental piece played by this capable and talented string ensemble.

For the final piece, Eriks Esenvalds’ ‘Passion and Resurrection’, the Choir joined forces with the Camerata to create a worthy culmination with this lengthy composition in four parts. Given the string and vocal interplay, the piece is quite diverse and can appear fragmented. The Choir again sounded magnificent, as were the soprano solos in almost piercing operatic fiercefulness. At the same time, the ensemble didn’t just support the music skilfully, but at times introduced a whole palette of additional almost otherworldly instrumental sounds, be they whisperings, hums, screeches or sighs. It was very effective and once more highlighted the capacity of the Choir and Paul Stanhope to infuse the classical genre with modern, and stimulating, aspects.

The concert, performed at the Great Hall on the afternoon of Sunday 29th March, was recorded by ABC Classic FM and will be broadcast on Good Friday at 8 pm. I can only recommend that you listen in and enjoy this concert at that most appropriate time. I most certainly will. The Sydney Chamber Choir are performing next at the Great Hall, Sydney University on 14 June and again on 6 September. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

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