Christmas Around the World – The Geelong Chorale: December 2nd, 2017

All Saints Church, Noble Street, Newtown.  Saturday, December 2nd, 5pm.

Allister Cox conducted a choir of 37 singers in a program of carols from around the world.  The Geelong Chorale was accompanied by Kristine Mellens (piano) and Frank De Rosso.  The guest artists for this concert were the Geelong Handbell Choir.

Allister Cox

The concert began with Australian bird song imitations from the choir placed at the rear of the church.  The work was If Christ had been born in another time composed by Australian Matthew Orlovich.  This set the tone for music of high quality and audience appeal.  Carols ranged from traditional English and European, to modern works including Of a Rose, a Lovely Rose (Colin Brumby), Jewel Carol, composed by New Zealander Christopher Marshall and Shepherds Pipe Carol (John Rutter).  There were several songs for audience participation.

The Geelong Handbell Choir was a popular guest artist, playing a selection of carols, and finishing with some light-hearted schmaltz – a setting of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas

As is usual for the Geelong Chorale’s Christmas concerts, the concert ended with We Wish You a Merry Christmas (English West Country carol) in a spectacular setting by Arthur Warrell.

This Christmas concert continues the Geelong Chorale’s Christmas tradition of carol concerts.  These started in 1981 – the Year of the Disabled*.  Originally, a free gift from the Chorale to the community, the aim was to present a short, easily accessible concert of traditional and new carols to the community, particularly targeting people who find attending outdoors ‘carols by candlelight’ events difficult.  The first concerts were held in the Geelong Art Gallery, and later the foyer of the Geelong Performing Arts Centre.  Children sat on the floor, and the venues were easily wheel-chair accessible.  Several aged care centres brought busloads of people to attend.

With the local ‘carols by candlelight’ cancelled due to bad weather, it’s a pity that the Chorale’s alternative offering was not better advertised.  The rather small audience certainly enjoyed the concert.

*Prior to 1981, the Gama Singers (now the Geelong Chorale) gave annual Christmas cafe concerts.

Read Colin Mockett’s review of Christmas Around the World at Entertainment Geelong.

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Venice: The Australian Chamber Choir – Geelong, October 29th, 2017

171029 Australian Chamber choir St Marys Basilica_3The music for this concert was inspired by the architecture of St Mark’s Basilica, which dominates the Venice skyline.  The church provides a broad range of options for musical performance.  The music for the Australian Chamber Choir’s current program is from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when St Mark’s was already four hundred years old.  For this concert, which features the work of Gabrielli, Monteverdi and Shütz, the choir is joined by a nine-piece instrumental ensemble, playing renaissance instruments.

The Australian Chamber Choir has, over its ten years on existence, gained world-wide renown as a choir of the highest standard, with close attention given to authenticity of musical style.  The current program, VENICE, maintains that high standard.  The choir is directed by its founder, Douglas Lawrence.  A feature of established fine ensembles is the development of an almost telepathic sense of unity in interpretation.  The Australian Choirs performance in St Mary’s Basilica, Geelong, demonstrated that it has joined this elite body.

Douglas Lawrence

The concert began with Domine ad Adjuvandum from Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of the Blessed Virgin. The choir sings a major chord with the text, with florid playing from the instruments interspersed with a lively instrumental ritornello for instruments and finishes with a chordal setting of ‘Alleluja’.

Heinrich Schütz’s  Ist Nicht Ephraim Mein Teurer Sohn, SWV 40 demonstrates admirably the diversity available from this choral ensemble, and the depth of the choir in solo talent.  This work featured fine singing from alto Elizabeth Anderson.  Although music of this period was written for male altos, and has a low tessitura for the female voice, Anderson’s work throughout the concert was exemplary.

More music of Monteverdi followed first Cantate Domino in a six part setting performed a cappella followed by a five part setting of O Jesu Mea Vita

The instrumental ensemble then demonstrated Giovanni Gabrielli’s exciting writing for instruments in a performance of Sonata Pian’ E Forte – played as originally intended with cornetto and violin playing the upper voices, rather than trumpets.

The first half of the program ended with an extended setting of the Magnificat composed by Giovanni Antonio Rigatti.  This once again demonstrated the choir’s fine soloists with extended solos for bass, baritone and tenor, and a soprano duet in thirds.  The tenor solo, Fecit Potentium is florid and extended, and was beautifully sung.  The Gloria contrasts  soloists with full choir.

Ancor Che Col Partire by Cipriano de Rore in 1516.  This performance featured a solo soprano (superbly sung by Erika Tandiano) with three solo instruments.

Of particular note was a second work of Heinrich Shütz – Saul, Saul, was Verfolgst du Mich, SWV 415.  The work contrasts solo ensemble with the full choir and instrumental vocal ensemble. Sparsely accompanied solo sections contrast with the richness of the  full sections.

The music of uncle and nephew Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli featured in the second half of the program, including Andrea Gabrieli’s Gloria in sixteen parts, and concluding with Giovanni Gabrieli’s spectacular In Ecclesiis.

There are two more performances of this beautiful program, on November 11 and 12, in Brighton and Middle Park.  It comes highly recommended.  See the Australia Chamber Choir website for further details, and of the upcoming 2018 subscription series.

This concert was part of the Music at the Basilica series presented by the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, Yarra Street Geelong.  For more details see Music at the Basilica

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voices of our Time: Sunday August 27 2017

The Geelong Chorale

All Saints Church, Newtown

It is some time since the Geelong Chorale presented a concert at All Saints Church.  Since the last time, the church has been carpeted, with flexible seating.  The new configuration is much more comfortable than the original wooden pews.  However, the carpet has adversely effected the liveliness of the acoustics.

In order to redress this, the choir was placed in the chancel, which retains its tiled floor.  This meant some loss in volume, but enhanced the blend of the choir, which has rarely been better.

The music was contemporary:  all the composers are still living.  Allister Cox has directed the Chorale since 2012.  The choir have blossomed under this directorship.

The first three items were by Australian composers.  The concert began with Kooraegulla, by Stephen Leek in 2002.  The text, Kooraegulla, means ‘meeting place’.  Leak’s setting exploited the rhythmic potential of the one word text most effectively.

Malcolm John was in the audience to hear his lovely setting of Let Your Song Be Delicate, a setting of a poem by John Shaw Neilson.  This work is a favourite with the Chorale.

Three Bush Songs, by Iaine Grandage followed.  This work evokes the atmosphere is the Australian bush, and has challenging harmonies, and a requirement that singers make bird and insect noises.  The third movement, ‘Sunset’ evokes the searing heat of last rays of the sun and the cooling relief of  the coming of night after a torrid summer’s day.

American composer Eric Whitacre’s first foray into composing followed – a setting of Go Lovely Rose composed in 1991 for the choir in which he was singing at Nevada State University.  This piece has challenging harmonies, considerable splitting within parts, and requires a full range of dynamics.  I hope that the Chorale consider adding some more songs by Eric Whitacre for future concerts, despite the challenges they pose.

The final three pieces in the first half of the concert were by British composers, the carol My Guardian Angel by Judith Weir (the text is a poem by William Blake), Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’s Healing Light and Scottish composer James MacMillan’s traditionally harmonised motet O Radiant Dawn.  The Chorale produced exciting crescendos and some lovely harmonic colour.

The second half of the program was Lux Aeterna, by American composer Morten Lauridsen’s, originally scored for choir and orchestra.  The version for this performance was for choir and organ (played in the Chorale’s performance by Frank De Rosso).   The performance was most successful  when the choir and organ performed separately.  When working together, the organ overpowered the choir.  Hopefully, the choir will present this work in a future concert, where there is a better choral acoustic and more time to work on balance.  The text for this sacred work comes from sections of the Latin mass.  The theme is ‘light’.  There are contrasts in dynamics, harmony and unison, and polyphony and homophony, and a gentle Alleluia ending.

Much of the music in this concert was challenging for the choir, made more difficult by the challenging venue – extremely cold on this icy winter’s afternoon.  Despite this, it was a most satisfying concert for the small audience.  The Geelong Chorale are to be congratulated for stepping outside their comfort zone to present contemporary music.

Helen Lyth

By the Waters of Babylon: Australian Chamber Choir

Sunday August 20th, 2017, The Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, Geelong

Photo: Music at the Basilica

This concert was part of a national and international tour to mark the tenth anniversary of the Australian Chamber Choir’s founding by Douglas Lawrence in 2007.

By the Waters of Babylon is the text of Psalm 137, which comments upon the grief of the Israelites after the destruction of Jerusalem and forced flight to Babylonia.  This text has been used many times to express feelings of loss, dislocation and grief.  The music for the Australian Chamber Choir’s concert spans almost 600 years of music from Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594) to two new works by contemporary Australian composers Luke Hutton and Tom Henry.

The Australian Chamber Choir is equally at home singing baroque motets and cantatas, the classical repertoire, and contemporary music.

The concert began with setting in German of the psalm – Chorale, BVW 267, by JS Bach, with organ accompaniment, followed by a Herbert Howells setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dmiittis from the Anglican service of Evensong.  This work most effectively moves from unison to luscious romantic harmonies.  These two works were sung from the organ loft and accompanied by the Chamber Choir’s organist, Ria Polo, who is also a member of the alto line.

Ria Polo then played Bach’s Choral Prelude on An Wasserflüssen Babylon.

The rest of the concert was sung by choir a cappella from the steps of the nave.

The Austalian Chamber Choir is a well-balanced group of eighteen voices.  Despite small forces, the choir effortlessly broke into two choirs, with admirable blend.  Jacob Handl’s setting of Pater Noster is in eight parts, working as two choirs – one of high voices (in this performance the female voices), the second tenor and bass.  Next came a four part setting of the psalm text in Latin, set by Giovanni Palestrina.  The word painting is amazing, perhaps exemplified by the setting of the word ‘suspendimus’ where the music soars in an upward arc, evoking the vision of harps lost – suspended in the trees of Zion.

The core of the concert was two new works by composers Luke Hutton and Tom Henry.  Fern Hill by Luke Hutton is a setting of a Dylan Thomas poem celebrating the joys of youth and love of the countryside, remembered in the final approach of the chains of death.  This work requires some exacting solo singing, especially from the three main soloists.  The emotion evoked by this beautiful setting left the audience so moved that they were reluctant to break the atmosphere with applause.

Uncertain Journeys by composer Tom Henry is a work in four movements with texts taken from the psalms and modern sources.  It evokes an emotional response to the lot of refugees in their journey towards safety and a new home, united, in this instance, with long-lost family.  Tom Henry uses vocal sibilants and spoken text to set the atmosphere.  In the second movement, The waters are coming into my soul, the words ‘salva me…’ recur throughout.  The music is in waves – evoking the deep swell of the open ocean, and refugees risking life in small boats to reach an uncertain haven.  I am always waiting here follows the plight of a refugee alone in a new land, hoping for a reunion with a family left behind and facing an uncertain future.  Life is in hiatus, spelt out in staccato by the choir’s repeating ‘I am …waiting’.  The final movement Feeling Freedom voices reunification and hope.  Once again Tom Henry employs staccato, this time, to evoke falling rain on the face of a woman at long last reunited with her husband and children.

Both composers were present at this concert.  Once could not imagine a better choir than the Australian Chamber Choir to bring these beautiful works to life.

Full Fathom Five by Swiss composer Frank Martin, marked a transition back towards music of earlier times, in a 1950 setting of Full Fathom Five (from The Tempest by William Shakespeare).  Alma Rhys-Jones’s program notes inform us that the music moves from an octatonic scale to more a more chordal structure.  The alliterative notes of ‘ding, dong bell’ evoke deep water, with a deep bass resonance adding to the underwater effect.

This was followed by three sixteenth century motets by Richard Dering, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons.  The concert finished Fürchte Dich Nicht (‘Do Not Fear’) a motet for double choir.  The first movement is a chorus for double choir, followed by a chorus and choral, with the sopranos singing the chorale over a contrapuntal chorus sung by the three under parts.

An encore, a setting of Down to the River to Pray followed the most appreciative applause.

Photo: Music at the Basilica

Music at the Basilica Choral Series

This was third in a series of choral concerts presented by Music at the Basilica.  The next concert in the series, Do I Love Thee More Than a Day,  features Vox Angelica, Geelong’s newest chamber choir, conducted by Tom Healey.  The concert is at 3pm on Sunday September 17th in the Pioneer Room 150 Yarra Street, Geelong (above St Mary’s Parish Office).

 

 

 

 

From Con to Kabul: Saturday, 19th August, 2017

This concert featured eleven young musicians, most of which have studied, or are studying, at Melbourne University.  Is was one in a series of concerts to raise funds for the Afghan Youth Orchestra in Kabul.  The project is the brain child of Ellan Lincoln-Hyde who has completed, among other things, a Masters Degree in Music from Melbourne University.

There were four pianists, Tim Buckland,Yani Lam, An Trinh, and Julia Hastings.  An Trinh was the recent winner of the regional prize of the Australian Youth Classical Music Competition.  She is a year 11 student at Geelong College.  An Trinh played the first movement of Haydn’s Sonata in C Major (Hob XVI) and Khachaturian’s Toccata demonstrating a flawless technique and great maturity of expression.

Julia Hastings played four Chopin works flawlessly. She also accompanied Lane Hyde (baritone)

Photo ABC

Three solo singers performed.  Lane Hyde, baritone, showed vocal potential in  songs by Schubert, Rachmaninoff and Arthur Sullivan.  Soprano Miranda Orford is quite well known to Geelong audiences.  She sang works by Mozart, Lloyd Webber, Wagner and Puccini.  Amelia Le Plastrier is also a soprano.  Amelia delighted the audience with three Celtic folk songs, accompanying herself on the Celtic harp.

Jazz featured in a bracket from Natham Batham (bass, piano and guitar) and Ellan Lincoln-Hyde (vocals and bass).  Natham Batham showed his skills as an accomplished jazz composer in his setting of Amazing Grace and his most enjoyable Improvisations for Kabul  which he played in the piano.  The bracket concluded with two songs – Someone to Watch Over Me (Gershwin) and Come on a My House (Bagdasarian and Saroya) – with stunning speed in the tongue-twisting text from Ellan.  The two musicians obviously enjoy working together.

The Laneway Quartet are a barbershop group of singers who know each other from Melbourne’s University’s  Newman College Choir.  Lane Hyde returned along with Matthew Bennett (Lead), Ryan Bentley (tenor) and Tom Attard (Bass).  This professional group showed a perfectly matched and blended ensemble.  Individual voices only dominated when the music required it.  The selection of songs, from traditional barbershop (for example Coney Island/We All Fall for It medley to the more serious repertoire like Meet Me in the Middle of the Air (Kelly, arr. Attard) and Prayer for the Children (Bestor)).  The bracket ended with a stunning arrangement of God Only Knows  by Wilson and Asher.

The Laneway Quartet – Photo: Ellan Lincoln-Hyde

This was a lovely concert, at Geelong College’s Keith Humble Centre.

If you would like to donate to the appeal to support the Afghan Youth Orchestra contact Ellan for more information.

Apollo Bay Community Choir with Guests: Sunday, 13th August, 2017

This was the last event in the first ever Apollo Bay Winter Festival and was to have been the Western District Choral Festival.  Luckily, despite the small number of choirs able to attend, the decision was made to replace the WDCF with a concert.

The host choir, Apollo Bay Community Choir began and finished the concert.  The concert started with the choir behind the audience, moving down the central aisle as they sang a folk tune.

Once at the front of the church, two more songs were sung, including Rolling in the Deep – in a setting which gained in complexity from unison, to two and finally three part harmony.  Apollo Bay choir is conducted by Annabel Tunley.

The concert was most entertainingly compered by Caroline Wren, from 3ABR (87.6FM). 

The Colac Chorale had taken the fire theme for this final weekend of the Winter Festival to choose three songs.  First they sang William James’s Bush Night Song, followed by The Never Never by Letty Katts and Keep the Home Fires Burning, a patriotic song, composed in 1914 by Ivor Novello.

The Colac Chorale

A quintet from the Deans Marsh Singers presented Eric Bogles’ Shelter, The Parting Glass , a Scottish song, and The Irish Blessing (May the Road …)There was a fine sense of ensemble, including a full range of dynamics. 

With a return of The Apollo Bay Community Choir the audience enjoyed three more songs.  The concert culminated with three pieces, which were originally planned for massed singing of all the choirs, Zidele, Shona Mananga (a South African uprising song with a stunning performance by a soloist leading the choir) before a farewell to all with May Your Cup Always be Full.

This was a most enjoyable end to the festival and was well attended mainly by members of the local community.  Congratulations to Apollo Bay Community Choir for turning a disappointment into a delightful afternoon of music making.

Images of the Fire ceremony Saturday evening 12th August.

 

Kammerchor St. Georg Nördlingen

Music at the Basilica

10 August 2017

St Georg Nördlingen

Nördlingen is a town of around 20,000 people.  Yet, as those who attended this concert found, it contains a world-class choir.  Nördlingen is twin town to Wagga Wagga, and this choir tour eventuated as part of celebrations for the fiftieth anniversary of this alliance.

The concert celebrated almost 600 years of German Church music, from Martin Luther to composers of the 21st century.  The choir’s conductor, Udo Knauer, utilised the Basilica’s full  potential with careful placement of the choir.

The music began with the women of the choir in the transepts, and the men in front of the high altar.  Luther’s setting of Psalm 118 (v.17) was set in German.  The female voices sang antiphonally in unison, punctuated by 3-part harmony from the male voices – the high part being in the male alto range.  The choir the moved to the nave steps for Verlie und Frieden by Heinrich Schütz.

A setting of Johann Pachelbel for double choir of the motet Singet dem Herrn was once again enhanced by choir placement – with the outer voices (soprano and bass) placed on the ends of the choir, with tenors and basses in the middle.  This exciting work, full of echoed parts, demonstrated the choir’s full range of dynamics.  Next came one of J.S. Bach’s lesser known motets – Der Geist hilft unserer Schwachheit auf also for double choir.  This work culminates with a fine example of Bach’s chorale harmonisation, perfectly sung.

There were several works for organ in the concert, played by the St. Georg’s organist Klaus Ortler.  The first was Bach’s Präludium and fuge G-Dur.

The program moved from the classical to the romantic era, with two pieces by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartoldy, including the well known’ Den er hat seined Engeln (known to English-speakers as “Lift thine Eyes”) from Elijah.  The women’s singing was beautiful throughout this concert, with personnel moving from choir to choir, part to part, always ensuring balance and blend.

Next was another organ interlude –  two of 6 Canons für das Pedalklavier op. 56 by Robert Schumann.

Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein reines Herz is a motet for four to six voice choir by Johannes Brahms.  There are several movements, including one in triple time – reminiscent of Brahm’s less religious waltzes – enhanced a little swaying in time from some of the singers.

Franz Biebl’s most popular work is Ave Maria (Angelus Domini) by Franz Biebl for four part chorus and semi-chorus.  Soloists enunciate each section in plainsong, followed by four part harmony from the main chorus with a three part ‘angels’ chorus’ from the semi-choir.  With luscious harmonies this work combined text from the Angelus and Ave Maria to complete the first half of the concert.

The second half of the concert began with the choristers seemingly randomly arranged around the congregation for Christ ist erstanden by Hans Darmstadt.  A vocal motif  begins on one side of the church and is taken up by each singer in turn, gradually passing around the church to end with a single voice once more. 

Two contrasting settings of Verlei uns Frieden followed.  The first signalled a return to the music of Martin Luther, the second by twentieth century composer Hugo Distler.  This was followed by Heintich Kaninski’s Aus der Tiefe rufe ich, an intricate work with a beautifully executed obbligato section sung by a trio of perfectly blended sopranos.

Next came Sigrid Karg-Elert’s organ improvisation on the chorale Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott played by Klaus Ortler.

Gerhard Deutschmann’s Ich weiss, dass mein Erlöser lebt was followed by a setting of the Lord’s Prayer for four part male choir by Gustav Gunsenheimer.

The final work in the concert was the haunting Abenleid by Joseph Rheinberger.

It was Geelong’s good fortune that the reputation of Music at the Basilica meant that this most accomplished choir shared their music in our region.

The next concert in the Music at the Basilica is on Sunday August 20th at 3pm, when the Australian Chamber Choir present By the Waters of Babylon.