Music of the Americas – Vox Angelica: Sunday, 14th May, 2018


St Paul’s Anglican Church, Geelong

One could not imagine a more fitting final concert for the 10TH Annual WINDFIRE FESTIVAL OF MUSIC IN GEELONG’S HISTORIC CHURCHES  than a performance by Geelong’s premier chamber choir, Vox Angelica.  Tom Healey, director and founder of Vox Angelica selected a program of music from the Americas, ranging from the 17th century to the 21st.

Tom Healey, Director, Vox Angelica

Throughout the program the choir showed good blend, faultless diction, and the ability to tackle highly complex counterpoint and luscious modern harmonies with equal skill.  The acoustic in St Paul’s Church is superb for vocal music – allowing for the fullest of texture and the quietest pianissimo.

From the first, it was clear that this was to be an extraordinary concert.  There was much rarely heard music, ranging from three Baroque pieces from Mexico, Peru and South Carolina through the centuries to contemporary music.  At the 17th century, most composers in the Americas were immigrants.

Resuenen los Clarines (May the trumpets sound),  by Manuel de Zumaya, dates from 17th century Mexico.  This antiphonal piece for two four part choirs, was challenging – with a fine interplay of sections between the two choruses.

Recordad Silguerillos (Remember, Little Goldfinches), by Juan de Araujo, a Spanish immigrant to Peru, for two sopranos, descant recorder and organ, was performed by Emily Swanson and Helen Seymour (sopranos), Jan Lavelle (recorder) and Frank De Rosso (organ).  The piece is a love song, with interwoven voice parts.   This was an admirable performance, enhanced by the wonderful acoustic of St Paul’s Church.

The third piece was a setting of Magnificat from Theodore Pachelbel.  Pachelbel, an immigrant to South Carolina, was the son of more famous Johan Pachelbel.  This setting was for double choir.

During the concert, Tom Healey played two contrasting pieces on the organ.  The first, a gentle 18th century Offerterio by Domenico Zipoli, an Italian migrant to Argentina, showed off the organ’s reedy stops with only one sustained one pedal note.  The second work, Toccata (from Suite) by Canadian composer, Thomas Bédard, was spectacular and used the full power of the organ, and showed off Healey’s phenomenal technique.

Lament Over Boston, a re-imagining of Psalm 137 with a new world focus, by William Billings, laments the unrest in the city in the late 18th century, with the approaching revolution against British rule.  In  English, it demonstrated the choir’s excellent diction and blend, and also Billings’ skilled word painting.  A part-song  in a lighter vein followed – 19th century romantic composer Edward MacDowell’s Barcarole.

Two of the USA’s most famous composers of the twentieth century were next – with Aaron Copeland’s At the River for men’s choir and piano, and Randall Thompson’s Come In for women’s choir, piano and flute.  In this setting of a poem by Robert Frost, the flute interludes mimic birdsong.   After a climax from full voiced choir, the music ebbs to an exquisite and moving  pianissimo, before the birdsong dies away to a final  thrush-like chirrup. The flautist in this performance was Brighid Mantelli.

Brighid Mantelli

Argentina’s Astor Piazzola is famous for his tangos.  The final piece before interval was an energetic  setting of Libertango, full of tango rhythms from the lower voices and piano, and finishing with a stunning fortissimo climax.

Twentieth and twenty-first century music from North America comprised the second half of the program.  It included spirituals like My Lord, What a Morning, arranged by HT Burleigh, and sung with a warm a cappella.  The subterranean bass note in the final extended pianissimo chord reverberated hauntingly.

Canada was represented with works by two contemporary female composers .  The first was the beautiful moving In Remembrance for a cappella choir, from Eleanor Daley’s Requiem.  The second work was an exquisite setting of Hear My Prayer (Psalm 103) by Stephanie Martin.

Thomas A Dorsey’s gospel song Precious Lord, begins in a traditional style, before relaxing into a heavy jazz-rock with men singing the tune, and the choir’s women singing in harmony above, with a virtuosic jazz piano accompaniment, played with great flare by the choir’s accompanist, Sonoka Miyake.

The final piece was another spiritual Let the Light Shine on Me, arranged by Moses Hogan.

Congratulations to Vox Angelica and Music at the Basilica, under the musical directorship of Frank De Rosso, for presenting this celebration of beautiful music.






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



How Shall We Sing in a Strange Land? VOX ANGELICA

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017, Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, Geelong

On Holy Wednesday, Vox Angelica, directed by Tom Healey, presented a concert culminating a series of Lenten performances at Basilica of St Mary of the Angels in Geelong.  Titled How Shall We Sing in a Strange Land, the concert comprised contemplative music from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century.

The title “How Shall We Sing [the Lord’s Song] in a Strange Land” comes from Psalm 137: verse 4 and is utilised by composer Joseph Twist to punctuate verses from the indigenous poet Oodgeroo Noonucal’s poem A Song of Hope.

Throughout the concert, Tom Healey, musical director of Vox Angelica, gradually revealed the diversity of acoustics in this superb venue by teasing the audience with diverse placement of the performers.

For the first part of the program, the music was performed from the choir gallery behind the audience.  The program began with Kyrie from Missa in Illo Tempore by  Claudio Monteverdi, with intricate part weaving.  The balance and blend of voices from this ensemble of twenty-one singers became apparent.  The ensemble includes a number of fine solo voices.  However, throughout the concert, the choral blend was excellent.

The contemplative mood continued with Ubi Caritas, one of four motets on Gregorian chants by Maurice Durufle.  This text translates as “Where charity and love prevail” and is one of the antiphons for the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday.

Philip Healey

Two instrumental pieces followed.  Philip Healey (violin) and Tom Healey (organ), presented Lamento by J S Bach.  Then St Mary’s main organ was featured once again in Crucifixus by Antonio Lotti with organist  Frank De Rosso, Director of Music at the Basilica.

Next was a setting of In Paradisum by contemporary Australian composer Moya Henderson.  The haunting opening  by unison sopranos built gently towards the entry of the other parts.  This most beautiful work, with its word painting and exquisite writing for the sopranos, including a short duet for soloists, culminates with a high soprano ending on the word ‘angeli’ symbolising the soul’s ascent to heaven.

The program returned to Maurice Durufle, with Pie Jesu from his RequiemEmily Swanson’s performance was moving, her tone warm and her phrasing impeccable.

The first half of the program concluded with Agnus Dei composed by young Melbourne-based composer Lachlan McDonald.  McDonald’s choral background is clear in his assured writing for voice.  This piece featured the alto line, as well as a short solo for soprano (who was not named in the program).

The second part of the program began with two more movements from Claudio Monteverdi’s Missa in Illa Tempore, the Sanctus and Benedictus.  The choir was hidden from view in the cloister behind the high alter.  The sound was exquisite – the large area of marble of floor and columns adding resonance to the effect produced by the intricate counterpoint of the six parts.

This was followed by O Vox Omnes by Pablo Casals, who despite being better known as a cellist, wrote a small number of compositions, including this beautiful motet for Holy Week.

The next piece was antiphonal  – O Domine Jesu by Antonio Gabrieli.  The audience was granted a glimpse of the singers, arrayed in two choirs, tossing the music from choir to choir across the chancel, partly obscured from the audience.  The music soared and, despite the short distance between the choirs, the antiphony was clearly evident.

Philip Healey followed, playing Largo from Sonata IV by JS Bach.  Tom Healey once again played the organ part – this time on the chamber organ in the south transept.

Finally the choir made their way to the chancel steps, in full view of the audience.  Vox Angelica presented the title piece –  How Shall We Sing in a Strange Land by Joseph Twist, with fine solo singing by Helen Seymour who presented some of the text including the final poignant but uplifting words ‘The pain, the sorrow, To our children’s children the glad tomorrow’ .  The work is punctuated throughout by the words of the psalm ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land’.  This piece, with its texts so pertinent in today’s world of global unrest, racial tension, displaced people and the struggle of so many for recognition, was the emotional climax of the concert, evoking consideration of the Christian story of pain and hope, anguish and salvation.

The mood changed to a lighter tone.  Let the Heaven Light Shine on Me is a traditional spiritual, arranged by Moses Hogan, releasing the tension of the previous piece.  The blend and warmth of tone of the choir was evident.  Tom Healey elicited a full range of dynamics, and the choir reveled in the rare opportunity to glissando ‘legally’.  The closing down on the final consonant of the word ‘shine’ producing a very effective hushed ending.

The final piece was God Shall Wipe Away All Tears from The Armed Man by Karl Jenkins.  This chorale was sung from behind the high altar.  It culminated a beautiful concert and was an uplifting end for St Mary’s Lenten performance series.

Helen Lyth

Vox Angelica will be presenting another concert for Music at the Basilica on Sunday, 17 September 2017, 3.00pm with a program titled DO I LOVE YOU MORE THAN A DAY?

The next event in the Music at the Basilica calendar is the 9th Annual Festival of Sacred Music in Geelong’s Historic Churches from 5th to 7th May, 2017.