Sound the Trumpet: The Geelong Chorale – Friday, 10th May, 2019

Windfire Festival 2019 – Concert 1

Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, Geelong

The Geelong Chorale presented this opening concert, with the assistance of brass quartet brass and organ.  The Chorale was directed by Allister Cox OAM.  The brass quartet comprised Daniel Ballinger and Sarah Hepworth, trumpets, Melissa Shirley, horn and Stewart Armitage, trombone.

The opening work Entrat Festiva, for brass quartet and organ, by 20th century composer Flor Peters, was presented from the choir loft, with Frank De Rosso playing the organ.  A more fitting work to open the festival could not be imagined.  The music is exciting, joyful and loud, setting the whole church ringing.

Festival Director, Frank De Rosso, is a master at using the spaces available in St Mary’s so that performers are heard to best advantage.  This means that sometimes performers are not seen, but this is in the long tradition of music in churches, where often, as at St Mary’s, organs and musicians we placed out of the congregation’s sight, and choirs often placed behind screens.

St Mary’s has an semicircular gallery behind the high altar, separated from the chancel by a marble colonnade. This space was chosen for the second work – Cantite tuba in Sion (Sound the trumpets in Sion)The acoustic was perfect for the choir, with the lines perfectly blended in weaving counterpoint.

The choir then moved to a space behind the main altar, now in view, for Pater Noster, by Francisco Guerro, for choir and brass, along with the brass.  It is easy for brass instruments to overshadow voices, and this was somewhat the case for this work, as the choir was still masked by columns and the main altar.

This was followed by three works for choir along, Sicut Servus/Sitvit anima mea by Palestrina and Exultate Deo, by Scarlatti. The last is a most exciting celebratory work, with a fast “Jubilate” middle section (taken by the Chorale at lightning speed) and finishing with joyful Alleluias.

Positioned in a transept, the brass quartet played Canzona a 4 by Giovanni Gabrielli.

The choir were finally in full view – standing on the chancel steps.  The sound was also more balanced between choir and brass, for a performance of Hans Hassler’s Missa Octo Voci The brass played one of the 4-part ‘choir’ parts, the Chorale the other.  A feature was the antiphony – with one choir singing alone, followed by the other, and then both together, giving a rich texture and full sound.  The Chorale demonstrated a sure line, and clean polyphony.  There was also a good balance between parts, despite the numerical lack of basses and tenors.

A haunting melody played by solo horn began the second half of the concert.  It was the opening of Easter Moon, by contemporary Melbourne composer, Christopher Wilcock.  began the second half.  The choir entry was a chant, mainly unison, building from piano then crescendoing to blossom into harmony.  The pattern continued, trombone solo followed by voices, trumpet duet followed by voices.  Finally the haunting strains of the horn died away to silence.

In honour of the setting, St Mary’s, three settings of Ave Maria followed, by Bruckner, Franz Beibl and Morten Lauridsen.  The second of these includes brass, the other two are for choir alone.

The brass returned to the choir loft to play Grand Choeur Dialogue by Eugene Gigout – a spectacular piece for organ and brass.  Finally, the choir joined them, in a very early and florid setting of Now Thanks We All Our God by Johann Bachelbel.

The Geelong Chorale has rarely been heard to better advantage.  They choir appeared to revel in this difficult music.

The collaboration with brass on such joyful music made a perfect opening concert for this year’s Windfire Festival – the 11th.  This year’s festival runs across three weekends, and includes eight concerts in various venues, four weekday lunchtime “Organ Plus 1” recitals, an afternoon tea (with music) for Mother’s Day and a workshop.  For more information go to Music at the Basilica.  

Helen Lyth

The Geelong Chorale presents its next concert on Sunday August 18th, with a program of music from opera and operetta.

Read  Shirley Power’s review of Sound the Trumpet 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.

 

 

 

[1] http://www.elgar.org/3spirit.htm

Singing the Classics ~ G&S: Sunday 10th June, 2018

Almost seventy Gilbert and Sullivan aficionados arrived to enjoy an afternoon of singing songs from the Savoy operas, conducted by Allister Cox and accompanied by Sonoka Miyake.

The selection of music included multiple patter songs – a fine test of singers’ diction.  Allister, who is much in demand for his own prowess, excelled at this.  There were many past and current members of Gilbert and Sullivan groups, enjoying the opportunity to enjoy old favourites like Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore, and undaunted by the intricacies of Iolanthe.  The sumptuous afternoon, provided by St Lukes parishioners, was a chance to catch up with old friends and tell a few of the stories of past G&S productions, both in Geelong and wider abroad.  A number of people had travelled from Melbourne to sing along.

The afternoon with a rousing performance of “Dance a Cachucha” from The Gondoliers.

Thanks to Allister, Sonoka, and all singers.

Thanks also to Anne Pilgrim, the founder and coordinator of Singing the Classics and to the Geelong Chorale who host the event.

Dixit Dominus and Coronation Anthems ~ The Geelong Chorale

Sunday, April 29th, Wesley Church, Geelong

Allister Cox conducting the Geelong Chorale and Instrumental Ensemble

For the first concert of 2018, the Geelong Chorale selected one of George Frederick Handel’s most challenging works for choir string orchestra and continuo, and soloists – Dixit Dominus (Psalm 109)This work, composed while Handel was working and studying in Rome, is florid and exacting.  Handel was 22 and was thriving on the chance to experiment with the richness of the Italian baroque.  It is a huge undertaking for the choir, with six very exacting choral movements, punctuated by only two solo movements.  These were sung by Lee Abrahmsen, soprano, and Colm Talbot, alto.  The other soloists were Emily Swanson, soprano, Terence McManus, tenor, and Will Humphreys, bass.  The concert was conducted by Allister Cox, who is also the Musical Director of the Geelong Chorale.  The orchestra of 16 fine musicians was led by Kathryn Buttigieg, with the Chorale’s accompanist Kristine Mellens, playing continuo.

The choir, despite sometimes struggling with an extremely high range and intricate counterpoint, showed that it can overcome technical difficulties to make exciting and moving music.  De torrente in via, the second last movement, is an example of emotional intensity, with the men of the choir singing in quiet unison under the soaring counterpoint of two soprano soloists, whose intricate part weaving of clashing seconds, resolves into glorious sonority.  The sopranos were Lee Abrahmsen and Emily Swanson, Lee bringing a warmth of operatic tone, and Emily and incisive clarity and a feeling for Handelian style.  After this quiet movement, the joyous Gloria patri is a celebration of baroque sparkle.  The sopranos in particular are to be complimented on their clean singing of bouncing octaves in the extended Amen section – a precursor of many more to be found in Handel’s more mature works.  Will Humphreys, who is a regular member of the Chorale, it to be congratulated for stepping in at late notice to sing the bass solo, with a fine tone and excellent technique for the very florid music.

After a brief interval, the music moved forward twenty years, to a mature Handel, firmly established in the English musical establishment.  In 1825, at the age of 42, Handel composed four coronation anthems for the coronation of King James II.  The orchestra includes strings, The first and best known is Zadok the Priest.  This begins with a long ritonello from the orchestra – building up then dying down in a series of broken chords from strings till the anticipation is rewarded with a blast of choral chords with trumpets and timpani – “Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon King”.  The joyousness continues as the choir declares “God save the king, may the king live forever. Alleluia, Amen”.  Although Zadok was the second Coronation Anthem performed at the coronation of James II, it is now always sung first.

The other coronation anthems are Let Thy Hand be Strengthened, The King Shall Rejoice and My Heart is Inditing which was originally sung during the coronation of the Queen Caroline.  This movement is the only one which includes soloists.  For this performance, the final anthem sung was The King Shall Rejoice.   The final movement “Halleluia, Amen” made a most fitting finale to this fine concert of Handel music.

Zadok the Priest

 

 

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.

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