Appropriate to this anniversary year, the program for this concert entitled TALE OF TWO CITIES had a particular focus on Benjamin Britten, works he would have known and been influenced by and works which have been influenced by him and his predecessors in the great English choral tradition.
The concert opened with both choirs singing Jackson’s Sanctum est verum lumen. This beautiful work opens with a great chord which the program notes describe as a nebula, but which I would describe as a nova, so powerful is its impact. This piece demonstrated how well the two choirs blended.
The next group of works was sung by the Sydney Chamber Choir. First up was a selection of Britten works from AMDG, his settings of poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins. The opening section, Deus ego amo, was beautifully crisp and the Prayer 1 section displayed the delectable harmonies for which Britten is famous and to which the choir did justice. The final section in this group was The Soldier which uses military rhythms and relies on clear articulation from the choir to work. It did.
The next work was Jackson’s Cecilia Virgo in 24 parts. The beautiful descending phrases at the beginning and end really did sound like the bell peals they were imitating. This work also has some beautiful dissonances.
The Lament to Saint Cecilia, composed by the choir director, Stanhope, to a poem by Veronica Pamoukahglian, gave the choir a chance to show what they could do in terms of a dazzling flow of melody. I look forward to hearing more works from Mr Stanhope.
The final work in this group was Britten’s well-known and loved Hymn to Saint Cecilia, based on Auden’s Anthem for St Cecilia’s Day. It was easy to hear that the choir loved singing this. They embraced the whole work and danced through the beautiful, floating harmonies and lovely canon sections. Special mention must be made of the soprano soloist whose bell-like singing was heart-piercing.
The second half of the concert opened with both choirs singing Britten’s A Hymn to the Virgin. This work was absolutely beautiful. Hard to believe that Britten was only 16 (and sick) when he wrote it!
The next group of works were sung by the Adelaide Chamber Singers. They opened with Maclean’s Et misericordiae. Maclean is a modern Australian composer whose work I had not previously heard. In this work, I noticed the difference between the two choirs. The Adelaide choir seemed to have a richer deeper tone. However, they sang this most challenging and complex work with finesse, drawing out the inter-woven melodies. Their soprano soloist was superb in the “He has the rain…” section and was supported by some beautiful drone singing. This is a beautiful composition, but sad as you would expect in a text from Job.
The next work saw a return to Britten’s AMDG with Rosa Mystica. This section of AMDG is very different to the earlier ones. It has a lightness and resonance which the choir brought out; altogether delightful.
The final two works from the Adelaide choir were Twist’s How shall we sing in a strange land, based on a poem by Oodgeroo Noonuccal, “Song of Hope” mixed with words from Psalm 137; and Whitacre’s Leonardo dreams of his flying machine. What a contrast! The Twist composition delivered a beautiful setting for Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s words of loss and sorrow. I thought I could clearly hear the coastal, rainforest sounds you would expect from this Quandamooka woman in the melodies of the words and the song. On the other hand, the Whitacre composition was just straight out fun! And the choir thought so too! They conveyed the flying, floating nature of the work, particularly in the susurrations depicting the wind with a gentle touch of light percussion for emphasis.
The concert closed with both choirs singing Tallis’s Spem in alium. This incredibly challenging work was sung in eight small choirs of 5 to 7 singers each. I have to commend Crossin’s conducting! The best way to enjoy this music is with your eyes closed. Talk about wall-of-sound. Eat your heart out Phil Spector,Tallis is better!
TALE OF TWO CITIES, a superb program of music, performed by the Adelaide Chamber Singers along with the Sydney Chamber Choir was performed at the Great Hall, Sydney University on Sunday 16th June, 2013. This concert will be broadcast on the ABC, so do try and catch it.