MUSIC FOR ROYAL OCCASIONS – The Geelong Chorale: Saturday May 6th, 2023

Jumping the gun on the King’s coronation by several hours, The Geelong Chorale presented a stellar line-up of music played for coronations, weddings and funerals of the British monarchy. 

Concert patrons were greeted at the door of All Saints Church with red white and blue bunting – echoing the bunting lining the streets of London along the route of the royal procession from Buckingham Palace to and from Westminster Abbey. 

Though smaller in number than the hundreds of musicians providing coronation music, The Geelong Chorale set the mood for viewers of the actual coronation with a rousing opening – Hubert Parry’s celebratory anthem I was glad, complete with resounding “Vivat Regina Camilla” and “Vivat Rex Carolus!” – a refrain only added for coronations.  Conductor Allister Cox commented that the Chorale might have been the first choir to sing these words in performance.  Ken George played the stirring accompaniment using the full forces of All Saints organ. 

Celebratory anthems by John Redford, William Child, SS Wesley and William Harris followed, covering four centuries of English Church music. 

Henry Purcell’s Funeral Sentences Man that is Born of Woman and Thou Knowest, Lord set a more contemplative tone.  The latter anthem evoked memories of the last royal performance – at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral in September 2022.  The choir demonstrated some beautiful quiet singing for these two pieces and the following Elgar piece – They are at Rest, which was commissioned for the funeral of Queen Victoria. 

Next was the pivotal movement from Brahm’s German Requiem ­– How Lovely is thy Dwelling – one of only two pieces in the concert by non-British composers.  Kristine Mellens, the Chorale’s accompanist, provided a piano reduction of the orchestral accompaniment. 

Funeral music continued – a piece composed by John Taverner in 1993, the haunting Song for Athene, which was performed at the funeral for Princess Diana.  The music relies on a solid low bass drone– the small forces of The Geelong Chorale did not disappoint in this most moving and evocative performance.  Moving to the 21st Century, the choir performed James MacMillan’s Who Shall Separate Us? which was commissioned for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. 

The final three pieces returned to the joyful mood of the opening.  First a piece by prolific composer John Rutter – This is the Day, which was commissioned for the wedding of Prince William and Princess Catherine. 

British nationalism came to the fore as Allister Cox invited the audience to participate in singing Hubert Parry’s Jerusalem accompanied once again by the organ.  There wasn’t a soccer ball in sight as the choir and audience heartily sang England’s ‘unoffficial anthem’. 

Finally, the piece de resistance – a piece sung at every coronation since that of Charles II in 1727 – Zadok the Priest.  This anthem, written by George Frederick Handel, begins with a long introduction of rising arpeggios, growing and falling back in volume, before the choir bursts in fortissimo with the opening phrase.  For this performance, only two musicians provided the entire accompaniment.  Kristine Mellens, piano, was joined by local violinist Patrycja Radzi-Stewart.  The addition of violin solo gave focus to the long introduction.  The choir’s singing was declamatory and exciting, leaving the audience in a suitable celebratory mood to go home and mark the King’s Coronation in what ever way they chose. 

The Geelong Chorale‘s next concert will be a performance of the Mozart Requiem, with soloists and full orchestra, on Sunday 20th August at 2.30pm at Wesley Church, Yarra Street, Geelong.

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