Capella St. Crucis Hannover: April 11th, 2019

Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, Geelong

Geelong music lovers were treated to some outstanding choral singing at Capella St. Crucis’s concert of Easter music, titled  Media Vita (in the midst of our lives), in the beautiful acoustics of St Marys Basilica.

The choir of around 50 musicians performed music by Johann Christoph Altnickol, Bach, Mendelssohn, Max Reger, and James MacMillan.

From the opening note, it was clear that this concert was something very special indeed.  Befiehl de deine Wege is the opening line of a hymn by Paul Gerhardt, commonly known in English as the hymn O Sacred Headand used by Bach as the linking chorale in his St Matthew Passion.  In Altnickol’s setting the first an last stanza are set as chorales with verses II to XI a set of challenging variations, both for full choir, and various solo ensembles.  Capella Crucis, and its many accomplished soloists worked together as a precision music-making unit, sensitively conducted by Florian Lohmann.

Bach’s Komm, Jesu, komm, a motet for double choir, followed, retaining the mood of solemnity.  The only one of Bach’s motets not to feature a biblical text, Komm Jesu Komm is thought to have been composed as a funeral motet.

For Mitten wir im Leben sind by Mendelsohn demands male and female choruses, and full 8-part chorus in counterpoint.  Here, the dynamic scope of Capella Crucis came to the fore with a full range of dynamics from pianissimo to a rich fortissimo.

With Max Reger’s bleak motet, O Tod, wie bitter bist Du the program moved into the 20th century.  The text contrasts the bitterness fear that death holds for the prosperous, with the welcome death gives to the old, weak, fearful and needy.  The music moves from clashing harmonies and unison solo lines and full choir to rich warm harmonies, finishing on a sustained triple pianissimo.  This was a moving performance.

The program concluded with a beautiful setting of Miserere by James MacMillan.

After enthusiastic applause, Capella Crucis presented an encore – Weep by Australian contemporary composer Joseph Twist.

This choir has an extraordinary depth of talent.  For this performance, there were at least 13 different soloists, and one had the feeling that many others could step into this role at need.

Photos by Music at the Basilica

The Geelong concert was presented by Music at the Basilica.

Geelong was lucky to have been one of only six Australian towns to hear this wonderful ensemble.  Capella St. Crucis from Hannover are on a whirlwind tour of Australia, presenting concerts at McLaren Vale, Adelaide (with Adelaide Philharmonia Chorus), Port Fairy, Geelong, Melbourne (with the Australian Chamber Choir), culminating in a concert at the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Philharmonia Chorus on April 20th.

I was lucky enough to hear Capella St. Crucis again at their concert in Melbourne, which featured, as well as some of the above works, a performance of Charles-Marie Widor’s Messe Solennelle Opus 36 for two choirs and two organs.  Capella St. Crucis were joined for this by the Australian Chamber Choir and the Choir of Scots Church.

You can hear some of the sound from this concert here.


Summer Sounds – Sunday, 24th February, 2019

Vox Angelica and Geelong Symphony Orchestra String Ensemble

Geelong Art Gallery

It is many years since concerts have been held in the wonderful acoustic of Geelong’s historic Art Gallery.  After yesterday’s concert, concerts of fine music should once again be a regular occurrence.

An elite group of string players from the Geelong Symphony Orchestra were joined by violinists Jamie Parker and Emily Frazer in Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for Two ViolinsThe two violins and ensemble reveled in the wonderful acoustic, as did the audience.

Tom Healey, Musical Director of Vox Angelica, introduced the choir with the comment that the performance brought together three art forms – music, poetry and visual art.  One could easily add architecture as a fourth element.  The choir’s items were loosely on the theme of summer, beginning with a performance of Summer is a comin’ in, purported to be the oldest song still surviving with its original notation.  This round was sung in twelve parts with two part bass ground and set the tone for the fine singing to follow.

The Bluebird, by Charles Villiers Stanford gave the first sopranos the chance to shine in the soprano obligato.  This was followed by Im Wald, a beautiful part song by Fanny Hensel (sister to Felix Mendelssohn).  American composer Eric Whitacre has become know for his sympathetic setting of words in choral music.  This Marriage is a setting of a Persian poem by Jalal al-Din Rumi).  A silence (given extra impact at this performance by the lively acoustic) precedes the final line… ‘I am out of words to describe how spirit mingles in this marriage’.

New Zealander Clare Maclean also showed herself an expert with word painting with a setting of Michael Leunig’s We Welcome Summer.  The composer’s direction is for a ‘sustained and luminous’ singing.  It was certainly so in this performance.

Two final songs, Sunset by Australian Iain Grandage and Sure on this shining night, in a setting my American Morten Lauridsen, rounded off Vox Angelica’s offering.  Grandage’s work evokes the sizzling heat of sunset after a hot day as it sinks into purple night.  Sure on this shining night dies away to a calm wonder in the beauty of a starry night.

Vox Angelica has once again proved itself to be Geelong’s foremost chamber choir.  Vocal technique is never an issue.  Despite the lively acoustic, the diction for this performance was crystal clear, dynamics ranged for near silence to an unforced fortissimo and harmony impeccable.

The concert concluded with Summer from The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi, with Jamie Parker as soloist.

I look forward to hearing these fine musicians in the Geelong Art Gallery again soon.

The Geelong Symphony Orchestra’s 2019 season begins next Saturday (2nd March) at 7.30pm at Costa Hall, Deakin University.

Acabellas at Pako Festa – Saturday February 23rd, 2019

On the most perfect day for a festival, Acabellas were the only Choral Grapevine group to sing at the 2019 Pako Festa.  Belinda McArdle, who leads Acabellas groups from around the region, led the group in a selection of her own original songs. 

Despite the open air stage, and with only a mike for Belinda’s guitar, the sound was amazingly good.  The group sang with joy and the sound showed this, with clear three and four part harmony and clean unison singing.  Singing with others is an uplifting experience.  Acabellas are a perfect example of this.

This performance marked the launch of Acabellas new recording Up in LightsToday the light was sunshine and the light shining from the happy faces of these fine performers.  As well as the title track, the audience were treated to a few other highlights from the CD including Breathe, I’ll Try and Big Love. 

You can purchase Up in Lights direct from members of Acabella or directly from Belinda.


In Flanders Fields: Friday 9th November, 2018

Windfire Choir conducted by Rick Prakhoff, Tim Reynolds – tenor, Fiona Squires -soprano, Ben Mitchell – narrator, Wendy Rechenberg – piano, Brighid Mantelli – flute, Philip Healey – violin, Chris Skepper – trumpet, John Seal – tympani, Frank De Rosso – organ.

Presented by Music at the Basilica Frank de Rosso – artistic director.

A review of this concert can be found at Entertainment Geelong

In Remembrance: Sunday, November 11, 2018

A concert to acknowledge the centenary of the WWI Armistice and to commemorate the sacrifice made by many in all wars.

The Geelong Chorale

Sunday, November 11th, 2018, St Paul’s Anglican Church, Geelong

This concert to mark the end of the “War to end all Wars” began with poet Siegfried Sassoon’s short poem Aftermath which was read with simplicity and dignity by Tim Gibson.  Sassoon reminds us of the horrors of war and asks ‘Have you forgotten yet?’  The fact of today’s concert, and other events and concerts marking the armistice that ended World War I, show that Australians have not forgotten.  Sassoon, a recipient of the Military Cross, took a stand against the war – not the first or last soldier to elucidate the futility of war and devastation it causes.

The Geelong Chorale, conducted by Allister Cox, then sang Lest We Forget composed this year by Australian Matthew Orlovich.  The work is for soprano soloist, choir, clarinet and piano.  Fiona Squires’ beautiful soprano soared above the choir and piano, with an ascending scale enunciating the words of the Lux Aeterna from the Requiem Mass.  The work is punctuated with the chant Lest we Forget which interweaving clarinet and piano lines.  The music’s end is marked by an expiration of breath from the choir – like the last gasp of a dying soldier.  The talented clarinet soloist was Jess Morris, and the choir’s regular and most accomplished accompanist, Kristine Mellens, was the pianist.

The sombre mood continued with the poem Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen, another poet of WWI.  Imagery like ‘The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells’ shows some of the horrors of this war which killed many millions of people, and wounded countless more, leaving whole nations in mourning.

Edward Elgar’s longer work, For the Fallen from The Spirit of England, op. 80, completed the first half of the concert.  The poem, written in 1914 by Lawrence Binyon, though written without the first hand experience of the front line of Sassoon and Owens, contains some of the best known words to commemorate the war dead –

They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old

Age shall not weary them, not the years condemn

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

The music, for choir, tenor soloist, piano was completed in 1916.  It begins with a steady slow marching beat from the bass notes of the piano, before a more romantic section which heralds the entrance of the choir alternating unison and harmony.  The music rises in intensity and pitch heralding the soloist’s entry – ‘Death, august and royal/Sings sorrow unto immortal spheres’ – a much more glorified view of war’s destruction than the stark reality of Sassoon or Owen.  The work is dedicated “to the memory of our glorious men, with a special thought for the Worcesters”.[1]  Nevertheless, this moving work honours the heroes of war, and was written in a time of bleakness to strengthen the resolve of the people of Britain.  The Geelong Chorale’s performance showed a choral richness, with the choir demonstrating once again a beauty of tone in the gentle passages – none more than in the unison last line ‘to the end…’  David Campbell’s fine clear tenor and faultless diction cut through the choral texture and shone out in the solo sections.

Mess de la Déliverance was composed in 1918 by Théodore Dubois to give thanks for the end of WWI.  It is dedicated to the bishop and choirs of Orleans.  In this performance, this extended work for tenor and baritone soloists and choir, was accompanied on the fine organ of St Paul’s church, played by Beverley Philips.  The work begins with an Introit, a stirring setting of Psalm 150, which makes the most of the brass stops of the organ.  The traditional movements of the Latin mass follow.  This music is lusciously romantic with a wide range of vocal colour and emotion.  The soloists were David Campbell and Manfred Pohlenz.

The final poem of the concert, To Germany, was written by Charles Hamilton Sorley, who was killed by a sniper’s bullet at the Battle of Loos at the age of 20.  In it, Sorley does not allocate blame, but states that ‘the blind fight the blind’, and hopes that with peace, vision of each other’s humanity will return, ‘But until peace, the storm, The darkness and the thunder and the rain.’

The concert ended with God Shall Wipe Away All Tears the final chorale from Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, composed to mark the Millennium.

A large audience showed appreciation for this moving concert which was a fitting tribute to those who fight and fall in war.

The Geelong Chorale’s final concert for 2018 is CAROLS AT QUEENSCLIFF, on Saturday, December 8th at 5pm, at Queenscliff Uniting Church.





The Mighty 9th: Beethoven’s 9th Symphony: October 27th, 2018

Costa Hall, Geelong

Geelong Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, conducted by Fabian Russell

Choristers from all over the Geelong region including Winchelsea and Melbourne amassed to create the Geelong Symphony Orchestra Chorus for the first ever performance in Geelong of Beethoven’s ultimate work The Ninth Symphony in D Minor, Op. 125. 

The soloists were Lee Abrahmsen – soprano, Belinda Patterson – alto, Brenton Spiteri – tenor, and Manfred Pohlenz – bass.

This concert marked the GSO’s third anniversary.

For a review of the concert by Colin Mockett, go to Entertainment Geelong.

Choral Grapevine choirs represented in the GSO Chorus were Coryule Chorus, Windfire, The Geelong Chorale, St Mary’s Choir, Vox Angelica, Wondrous Merry, Geelong Grammar School Choir, Geelong U3A Choir, Geelong Harmony, Geelong College Community Choir, Geelong Sings, and Choir of St Paul’s, Geelong.

True Romantics – AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER CHOIR: Sunday, August 26th, 2018

St Paul’s Anglican Church, La Trobe Terrace, Geelong

Musical Director:  Douglas Lawrence

Presented by Music at the Basilica

At first it may seem a misnomer to title this divers program of choral music ‘romantic’.  However, the romanticism of this concert lies in the sense that each work evokes its own atmosphere and each demands the listener to feel a strong emotional response.  If that was the aim of this program, then it was supremely successful.

A change of venue worked to the advantage of both choir and audience.  St Paul’s Geelong has perfect acoustics for singers.  Music at the Basilica was rewarded in this change by a good-sized audience, who clearly appreciated not only the acoustics but also the warmth and comfortable seating.

The music ranged from Brahm’s substantial motet Warum is das licht gegeben dem mühseligen? to madrigals of love and loss by Monteverdi to works by Samuel Barber and Edward Elgar, modern Australian music by Anne Boyd, Alan Holley and Brenton Broadstock and concluded with Trois Chansons by Maurice Ravel.  Joseph Rheinberger’s gentle Abenleid provided a most fitting encore.

This ensemble goes far beyond technical expertise. Douglas Lawrence has melded the Australian Chamber Choir into a perfectly honed instrument of musical perfection. There is not a voice out of place.  The depth of talent in the choir was demonstrated by the two finely matched quintets who performed two of the three Monteverdi madrigals Lasciatemi morire and Si, ch’io vorrei morire and the selection of soloists, including the impeccable singing of soprano Elspeth Bowden in Barber’s taxing Agnus Dei, and the quartet of fine soloists in Maurice Ravel’s Quatre Chansons.  Of special note was the shimmering intensity of Anne Boyd’s As I crossed a bridge of dreams, composed in 1975.

Helen Lyth

The final presentation of this program will be the Art Gallery of NSW on Sunday September 16th at 6.30pm. 

If you missed TRUE ROMANTICS, the Melbourne performance was recorded by ABC Classic FM and presented as part of Evenings on 3rd August.  You can listen to this recording at 

Review of True Romantics Melbourne performance by Julie McErlain at

Geelong audiences will once again have the opportunity to hear the Australian Chamber Choir in their final program for 2018, A BAROQUE CHRISTMAS, to be presented on Sunday 2nd December at 3pm, at the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels.