Vaughan Williams – A life in Music – Sunday, May 15th, 2022

All Saints’ Church, Newtown

Conductor – Allister Cox

Accompanist – Kristine Mellens (piano), Ken George (organ)

Soloists – Amelia Warwrzon – soprano, Syrah Torii – Mezzo-soprano, Ben Glover – Tenor, James Emerson – Bass

This concert was designed to showcase Vaughan Williams’s music and marked the return of The Geelong Chorale to the concert stage after more than two years of Covid-induced interruptions. 2022 is Ralph Vaughan Williams’s 150th anniverasry. Obviously the music-starved people of Geelong were also avidly awaiting the Geelong Chorale’s return. All Saints’ Church was packed out for this concert.

Just a week after the Geelong Symphony Orchestra with solo violinist Erica Kennedy presented a sublime performance of Vaughan Williams’s The Lark in Ascending, The Geelong Chorale presented a program made up of Vaughan Williams’s vocal music. The pivot of this concert was one of Vaughan William’s most beautiful and challenging unaccompanied choral works – his Mass in G Minor. For the mass, the choir divided into two four-part choruses, with soloists Amelia Worwrzon – soprano, Syrah Torii – mezzo-soprano, Ben Glover – Tenor and James Emerson – Baritone.

The choir’s hard work paid off admirably, presenting a most moving performance of the work. In particular, Allister Cox produced a full dynamic range from his singers. The soloists were spellbinding, from the clarity of line of Amelia Warwrzon’s soprano to the convincing depth and assurance of James Emerson’s baritone.

The concert opened with the anthem, O Clap Your Hands, composed in 1920 and first performed at Westminster Abbey with chorus, organ and brass. The Geelong Chorale sang Vaughan Williams’s later arrangement for choir and organ, with Ken George playing the organ. Unfortunately, balance between choir and organ was an issue, perhaps made worse by choir placement – on the carpeted floor without the use of risers. However, this was less of an issue for the concert’s final motet.

The remainder of the program consisted of a range of secular choral works, including an early setting of three Elizabethan part songs for choir, and solo songs with piano accompaniment from each of the soloists. It is pleasing to see The Geelong Chorale engaging young singers as soloists. We look forward to hearing more from these four as their careers continue to develop.

Kristine Mellens, the choir’s regular accompanist, was accompanist throughout the concert, with her skills fully utilised in her nuanced partnership with the soloists in their individual songs.

Vaughan Williams is well-known as a musicologist, especially in his collecting of British folk songs. It is therefore fitting that the program included three folk song arrangements, Alister McAlpine’s Lament, The Turtle Dove (with James Emerson as baritone soloist) and Just as the Tide was Flowing.

The final work, Lord, Thou Has Been Our Refuge , was a rousing celebration of faith. In this case, it shows the faith of The Geelong Chorale to come back to performing after a long gap with many interruptions. Congratulations to the hard-working choir members, and conductor, Allister Cox for a return to fine music-making.

In his commentary for the concert, Cox noted that Ralph Vaughan Williams, despite his prodigious output of sacred music, was a ‘cheerful agnostic’, quipping that his mass was ‘…not bad for an agnostic’. For me, the mass was the pinnacle of the performance. It stands comfortably with other great masses in the repertoire, and it was a joy to hear its return to The Geelong Chorale’s repertoire after many years of absence.

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