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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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

An American Portrait: The Geelong Chorale

Sunday May 21st, Wesley Uniting Church, Geelong

Conductor:  Allister Cox,  Accompanist:  Kristine Mellens

An American Portrait, presented by the Geelong Chorale, was more a series of portraits, each focused on a specific area of American music.

The first bracket comprised four Negro Spirituals.  Two, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Deep River were arrangements by Australian Arthur S. Loam, in the 1940s.  The other spirituals are more modern works, composed and arranged by African-Americans.  Soon Ah Will be done-ah wid de Troubles of de World, composed by William L. Dawson (1899-1990) and Ain’t got Time to Die composed in 1956 by Hall Johnson (1888-1970).   Soloist John Stubbings was in fine voice in this piece, which was called by the composer an ‘art song in the style of a spiritual’.

Stephen Foster was the foremost composer of popular songs in 19th century America.  It is therefore not surprising that, for its second ‘portrait’, the Chorale chose three songs by Stephen Foster, I Dream of Jeannie (arranged by the Chorale’s Anne Pilgrim), My Old Kentucky Home (arranged by Alice Parker and Robert Shaw) and Beautiful Dreamer (arranged M. Gardner).  The men of the Chorale shone in their unison singing in this piece.  Foster’s songs were immensely popular in the minstrel shows whose popularity continued well into the twentieth century.  (The performers were usually white people, with blackened faces – performing songs, dancing, comic skits and variety, although there were some all black groups.  Times have changed!)

Popular folk songs comprised the third bracket.  Shenandoah (arr. J. Erb) dates to the early 19th century.  The Riddle Song (arr. A. Warrell)  originates from a 15th century English song, which was brought to the Appalachian Mountains by early settlers.  Aaron Copland, like Benjamin Britten, was an avid collector of folk music.  Two of his folk song arrangements concluded this bracket, the ballad Long Time Ago and minstrel song Ching-A-Ring Chaw.  Kristine Mellens showed herself a most accomplished accompanist in Copland’s arrangements.  She joins an illustrious group as it’s interesting to note that the original solo arrangements of these two songs were first presented by Peter Pears (tenor) and Benjamin Britten (piano) in 1950.

Art songs followed.  Samuel Barber’s beautiful Sure on this Shining Night was followed by Randall Thompson’s challenging Alleluia commissioned in 1940.  Despite the joyous Alleluia lyrics, the piece is gentle and prayer-like.  Allister Cox elicited the long build-up to forte and the decrescendo was equally satisfying.  There were some lovely pianissimos in the high tenor line.  The Road Home followed, composed for the Dale Warland Singers by Stephen Paulus in 2001.  This work is based on an old American folk song tune.

America is the home of the modern musical, and musical cinema.  The choir let its hair down and sang songs of Gershwin (a medley titled Gershwin in Love (arr. Mac Huff) with beautiful solo work from Helen Seymour and John Stubbings), then Cole Porter’s Night and Day, followed Over the Rainbow (from The Wizard of Oz), and the rousing final reprise of the title song from Oklahoma! by Rogers and Hammerstein in the original stage arrangement.

The Geelong Chorale concluded its American Portrait with an arrangement of Battle Hymn of the Republic.  P.J. Wilhowsky’s arrangement featured the piano, in a fanfare-like opening, which was then taken up by the women’s chorus.  There are multiple  key changes as the piece builds in tension verse upon verse, with various ‘special effects’ including a marching chant from the men’s voices.  The verse ‘In the beauty of the lilies…’ was sung by the men in Welsh-style close harmony, before the final climax – ascending choral chords – a very ‘Hollywood’ finish to a most enjoyable concert.

The Geelong Chorale, a well-balanced, medium-sized choir of ten sopranos, ten altos, four tenors and six basses was in very fine voice.  It is good to see some new faces among the line up.

The Geelong Chorale’s next concert is Voices of Our Time: Music of contemporary composers on Sunday, August 27th at 3pm in All Saints Anglican Church, Newtown.

Haydn’s Creation – The Geelong Chorale – review

Thanks to Colin Mocket (That’s Entertainment, Geelong)

Hayden’s  Creation – from woe to go in song

Joseph Haydn’s Creation sung by the augmented Geelong Chorale conducted by Allister Cox, Wesley Church, Yarra St, December 5, 2015.

It’s not every day you get a chance to review the creation of the earth.
In Geelong, it happens only once every couple of decades, because 1994 was the last time this work was sung in our city, by the same group, then known as The GAMA Singers.
Ironically that was the last concert in what was then Geelong’s premier vocal auditorium, the west wing of the Town Hall concert hall, before it was  taken over as a base for local politicians. At the time they promised to build a replacement venue. As this never happened,  Geelong must be the only place on earth where The Creation was so swiftly followed by local council annexation.
But leaving all that aside, there were, surprisingly, several voices remaining from that 1994 event in the 2015 Chorale, and more survivors in the audience. And most were in agreement that this was the superior performance. This was, in short, a luscious piece of choral work that was (literally) magnificently delivered.
Technically, it was beautifully balanced, with a highly competent 30-piece orchestra in front of the Chorale’s 46 voices with four soloists seated to one side – all controlled with musical elegance by one conductor, Allister Cox. And  there was not a microphone or mixing desk in view.
None were needed because the soloists had the ability and power to project over both choir and orchestra to tell the stories of Haydn’s masterwork with clarity and beauty.
The structure of the work moves from chaos to order,  giving prominence – and characters – to those soloists. So the wonderful soaring soprano of Lee Abrahmsen was singing the archangel Gabriel’s view of the creation, while Manfred Pohlenz’s rich, commanding bass gave voice to archangel Raphael. Later, in act three, these two became Adam and Eve, allowing them to assume the prominent, driving roles for the entire concert, with tenor Daryl Barclay singing the lesser part of archangel Uriel and the Chorale literally singing like angels extolling praise for their maker. Clearly maestro Haydn had little time for altos, as soloist Kathleen Rawson’s sole role was to augment the final amens, which she did as adroitly – and masterfully – as every other musician involved in this most glorious of concerts.
Aesthetically and acoustically, the Church venue was perfect for the occasion, and director Cox’s reverence and reference to his 1859 original score  added even more lustre.
I shudder to think of the enormous amount of work and expertise that went into staging this exquisite concert. It would have taken months of rehearsals and significant resources. But believe me, it was worth every moment. And there’s another irony in that it told of (literally) everything being created on a much shorter time-scale, just six days.
Here’s hoping we all get to see the next staging of this glorious work – perhaps in Geelong’s long-promised purpose-built concert hall.

Colin Mockett

The Geelong Chorale at Pako Festa

On Saturday, the Geelong Chorale performed at Pako Festa.  For the first time, our choirs were performing ‘al fresco’ – in West Park.  Allister Cox, the Chorale’s Musical Director, chose a varied international program including Tollite Hostias by Saint-Saens, a Latvian Our Father, and two Gilbert and Sullivan favourites from last year’s most successful cafe concert – Strange Adventure and A Modern Major General with Will Humphreys singing the part of the Major General with his usual panache.  A couple of Scottish sings, Eriskay Love Lilt and Wi’ a Hundred Pipers completed the Chorale’s bracket.

For more photos, and information about The Geelong Chorale’s upcoming concert see the Chorale’s Facebook Page.