SIX TIMES THREE, performed last Sunday afternoon at their home venue, the Great Hall at the University, was the final concert in the Sydney Chamber Choir’s fortieth anniversary year. The 2015 series motto, Life Begins At Forty, alluding to freshness and a fine future, was most applicable here.
The choir worked with Richard Gill OAM for this concert. In 2016 Gill takes over as musical director and conductor of the choir. Based on the quality of this concert audiences are assured of unique concerts, concise and thought-provoking commentary as well as stunning singing in the year ahead and then beyond.
This concert’s works spanned at least four hundred and seventy six years, presented in six brackets of three pieces, hence the title. In something of a reverse organisation to many programmes, the more modern pieces were heard at the start of the concert. The concert concluded with a bracket of Gesualdo madrigals from the late sixteenth to seventeenth centuries.
We were welcomed back to the Sydney Chamber Choir’s virtuosity at the start of this concert through two brackets of short pieces/extracts from Australian composers. This introduction to innovative compositions was presented in an attractive and accessible fashion.
The impressive opening to the concert illustrated an incredible variety of choral writing from 1963 to 1997, and featured genres such as folk songs, satire, liturgical music and English language poetry.
A particular thrill was the inclusion of Adam Lay Y-Bounden from Dulcie Holland, responsible for the writing of music theory and musicianship courses that educated generations of Australian musicians, but whose fine compositions are too seldom included on concert programmes. This setting was delivered with compelling tone and a fine blend by the choir.
A superbly characterised performance in the concert’s opening set was an excerpt from Elena Kats-Chernin’s song cycle Talk Show (1997). Complete with the vocal sound effects of a TV audience, a neat summary of homicide and a funereal hymn for a murderer after his five minutes of fame, this was a compelling piece.
Two brackets of French chanson were delivered with warmth, elegance and subtlety of nuance. Shifts between full choir and smaller ensembles or soloists drawn from the talented ranks added nice tonal and textural variety.
This was fine French vocal performance as we were treated to the Trois Chansons by Ravel (1915) and Debussy’s Trois Chansons de Charles de Orléans (1908). Changing characterisations within each set were neatly handled.
The Sydney Chamber Choir’s reputation has for some time included an affinity with the music of Josquin Prez. The fifth bracket performed during this event reinforced the past success and accolades with regard to performance of this composer’s music. This set of very emotional works, including the Mille Regretz was deeply moving. The audience was on the edge of their seats as they drank in every acapella inflection.
In addition to this early music treat, and a concert of almost entirely unaccompanied choral excellence, the afternoon ended with the inimitable chromatic word painting of Carlo Gesualdo. This bracket glanced both forward to the innovation of the more modern programmed works and stood alone as an early music treat. These pieces were a dynamic addition to the contrasts already enjoyed in the concert.
In 2016 we can look forward to the Sydney Chamber Choir presenting works such as Carmina Burana and more treats both well known, rare and newly commissioned, as well as more inimitable leadership from Richard Gill.