How Shall We Sing in a Strange Land? VOX ANGELICA

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017, Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, Geelong

On Holy Wednesday, Vox Angelica, directed by Tom Healey, presented a concert culminating a series of Lenten performances at Basilica of St Mary of the Angels in Geelong.  Titled How Shall We Sing in a Strange Land, the concert comprised contemplative music from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century.

The title “How Shall We Sing [the Lord’s Song] in a Strange Land” comes from Psalm 137: verse 4 and is utilised by composer Joseph Twist to punctuate verses from the indigenous poet Oodgeroo Noonucal’s poem A Song of Hope.

Throughout the concert, Tom Healey, musical director of Vox Angelica, gradually revealed the diversity of acoustics in this superb venue by teasing the audience with diverse placement of the performers.

For the first part of the program, the music was performed from the choir gallery behind the audience.  The program began with Kyrie from Missa in Illo Tempore by  Claudio Monteverdi, with intricate part weaving.  The balance and blend of voices from this ensemble of twenty-one singers became apparent.  The ensemble includes a number of fine solo voices.  However, throughout the concert, the choral blend was excellent.

The contemplative mood continued with Ubi Caritas, one of four motets on Gregorian chants by Maurice Durufle.  This text translates as “Where charity and love prevail” and is one of the antiphons for the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday.

Philip Healey

Two instrumental pieces followed.  Philip Healey (violin) and Tom Healey (organ), presented Lamento by J S Bach.  Then St Mary’s main organ was featured once again in Crucifixus by Antonio Lotti with organist  Frank De Rosso, Director of Music at the Basilica.

Next was a setting of In Paradisum by contemporary Australian composer Moya Henderson.  The haunting opening  by unison sopranos built gently towards the entry of the other parts.  This most beautiful work, with its word painting and exquisite writing for the sopranos, including a short duet for soloists, culminates with a high soprano ending on the word ‘angeli’ symbolising the soul’s ascent to heaven.

The program returned to Maurice Durufle, with Pie Jesu from his RequiemEmily Swanson’s performance was moving, her tone warm and her phrasing impeccable.

The first half of the program concluded with Agnus Dei composed by young Melbourne-based composer Lachlan McDonald.  McDonald’s choral background is clear in his assured writing for voice.  This piece featured the alto line, as well as a short solo for soprano (who was not named in the program).

The second part of the program began with two more movements from Claudio Monteverdi’s Missa in Illa Tempore, the Sanctus and Benedictus.  The choir was hidden from view in the cloister behind the high alter.  The sound was exquisite – the large area of marble of floor and columns adding resonance to the effect produced by the intricate counterpoint of the six parts.

This was followed by O Vox Omnes by Pablo Casals, who despite being better known as a cellist, wrote a small number of compositions, including this beautiful motet for Holy Week.

The next piece was antiphonal  – O Domine Jesu by Antonio Gabrieli.  The audience was granted a glimpse of the singers, arrayed in two choirs, tossing the music from choir to choir across the chancel, partly obscured from the audience.  The music soared and, despite the short distance between the choirs, the antiphony was clearly evident.

Philip Healey followed, playing Largo from Sonata IV by JS Bach.  Tom Healey once again played the organ part – this time on the chamber organ in the south transept.

Finally the choir made their way to the chancel steps, in full view of the audience.  Vox Angelica presented the title piece –  How Shall We Sing in a Strange Land by Joseph Twist, with fine solo singing by Helen Seymour who presented some of the text including the final poignant but uplifting words ‘The pain, the sorrow, To our children’s children the glad tomorrow’ .  The work is punctuated throughout by the words of the psalm ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land’.  This piece, with its texts so pertinent in today’s world of global unrest, racial tension, displaced people and the struggle of so many for recognition, was the emotional climax of the concert, evoking consideration of the Christian story of pain and hope, anguish and salvation.

The mood changed to a lighter tone.  Let the Heaven Light Shine on Me is a traditional spiritual, arranged by Moses Hogan, releasing the tension of the previous piece.  The blend and warmth of tone of the choir was evident.  Tom Healey elicited a full range of dynamics, and the choir reveled in the rare opportunity to glissando ‘legally’.  The closing down on the final consonant of the word ‘shine’ producing a very effective hushed ending.

The final piece was God Shall Wipe Away All Tears from The Armed Man by Karl Jenkins.  This chorale was sung from behind the high altar.  It culminated a beautiful concert and was an uplifting end for St Mary’s Lenten performance series.

Helen Lyth

Vox Angelica will be presenting another concert for Music at the Basilica on Sunday, 17 September 2017, 3.00pm with a program titled DO I LOVE YOU MORE THAN A DAY?

The next event in the Music at the Basilica calendar is the 9th Annual Festival of Sacred Music in Geelong’s Historic Churches from 5th to 7th May, 2017.

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