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


Festival of Sacred Music in Geelong’s Historic Churches: Friday 4th- Sunday 7th May, 2017

Last weekend, music lovers in the Geelong region, and a few from wider afield, partook of a feast of music.

This was the 9th Festival of Sacred Music in Geelong’s Historic Churches presented by Music at the Basilica.
The festival director is Frank De Rosso, who, along with the hard working committee at Music at the Basilica deserve congratulations for this fine weekend of music.

The festival comprised five concerts, two workshops and a liturgical sung mass.

The opening concert, From Harmony to Harmony, featured the Windfire Choir and Chamber Ensemble, conducted by Rick Prakhoff.  The title comes from John Dryden’s ode A Song for Saint Cecilia’s Day which was presented by the choir and orchestra in a setting for by Handel written in 1739.

The first half of this concert included a Handel suite for trumpet and organ, played by Robert Macfarlane and Frank De Rosso, Fantasie, a lute solo, played by Rosemary Hodgson, and Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs sung by baritone Tom Healey in a setting including piano quintet and choir.  The quintet comprised Phillip Healey (violin I), Kathryn Buttigeig (violin II), Marcus Allport (viola), Jeanette Carnie (cello) and Sonoka Miyake (piano).

Handel’s 1739 Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day was the second part of the concert.  The chamber orchestra, led by Philip Healey, included strings, harpsichord and organ (played by the agile Beverly Phillips) and theorbo and lute played by Rosemary Hodgsen, as well as trumpets – with splendid playing by Tristan Rebien, oboes and flute.  The vocal soloists were Sally Wilson and Robert Macfarlane.

This ode, though less well known than Handel’s music for Dryden’s other ode Alexander’s Feast, includes some beautiful word painting, with solo instruments illustrating the text.

It is unusual in this era to feature solo cello and soprano.  Handel’s setting of What Passion Cannot Music Raise and Swell begins with a long cello solo, sensitively played by Jeanette Carnie.  Sally Wilson took up the text with a wonderful sense of phrasing and clear line.  The soft complaining flute features the more common, but no less beautiful combination of flute and soprano.  The soprano echoes the sobbing sadness of the flute melody.  The flute was played by Brigid Mantelli.

Unfortunately, the organ used in this setting was electronic and without the power to do full justice to   ‘But oh! what art can teach… the sacred organ’s praise’.  Notwithstanding this, the sustained chords and long lines of the soprano solo, provided a satisfying performance.

Tenor and choir both feature in The Trumpet’s Loud Clangor.   The martial rising arpeggios of the trumpet heighten excitement.  Timpani adds to the tension.  Tenor soloist Robert MacFarlane sang the opening rising phrase ‘The trumpet’s loud clangor excites us to arms’ with effortless deftness.  Later the tenor is echoed by the choir – ‘Hark the foe comes’ then ‘Charge, ’tis too late to retreat’.

In the last movement As From the Power of Sacred Lays the trumpet heralds the end – when the music of the spheres overcome the earthly.  In the martial key of D major, the choir and soprano exultantly sing, in partnership with orchestra coloured by trumpets and timpani, ‘The trumpet shall be heard on high, and music shall untune the sky’.

Read a review by Wendy Galloway of this concert at https://musicatthebasilica.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Ninth-Festival-review..pdf

Windfire Chamber Choir and Orchestra

Saturday’s festivities began with two workshops.  The first was Running with Zithers presented by Angelika Smales.  Angelika Smales’ endeavour was to prove that anyone can learn to play the zither in only one hour.

The second workshop, presented by John Weretka, demystified the diverse history of the chant.  In Laudes Deo:  An introduction to chant, John Weretka explained that, although modern chant liturgy has Gregorian chant as its basis, in earlier times liturgical rites, and the chants that underpinned them were diverse, and usually specific to particular areas in Europe and the British Isles.  The usage of most of these rites is now extinguished, usurped by the Gregorian tradition, with only a few traces remaining in very localised areas.  John Weretka showing examples of early notation of chants and demonstrated how they would have been interpreted.  He stressed that most of the chants were learned by rote and repetition, rather than singers reading from manuscript.

This talk helped inform patrons attending Crux Fidelis, presented by six voice vocal ensemble e21 as part of Sunday’s program.  e21, directed by Stephen Grant,  presented plainsong chant.  The chants included in the festival program covered Gregorian, Ambrosian and Old Roman chant, each with its specific characteristics and ornamentation.  The unison singing of the whole group was superb, as were the solo voices, who presented verses in some of the chants.  With the exception of two works in two parts (Virgin Mariae laudes and Conductur: Codex Engelberg 314 – Unicornus captivator) all works were in unison.  John Weretka, who had conducted the Saturday chant workshop, demonstrated an early hurdy gurdy, which was used to provide a drone in one piece.  (The hurdy gurdy is a very early mechanical instrument, where the player turns a handle, which activates the turning of a wheel against a string.)

The setting of St Mary’s Basilica was perfect for this early music.

On Saturday afternoon Vocal Dimensions Wangaratta presented Sing Praises, a program of choral sacred music.  The group is directed by Malcolm Halford with Margaret Phillips accompanist.  The music ranged across the traditional choral repertoire from Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus and Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium through the classical and romantic music of Haydn’s The Heavens are Telling and Brahm’s How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place to Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine,and Charles Wood’s O Thou the Central Orb to music of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Eight sopranos and five altos were well balanced by the four basses and two tenors.  The blend was excellent.  The choir coped well with the dissonances in John Taverner’s The Lamb, and the sustained line in the Benedictus and Agnus Dei from Karl Jenkins The Armed Man. The concert concluded with Ralph Vaughan Williams jubilant Let all the World in Every Corner Sing (No. 5 from Five Mystical Songs).

For listeners with an Anglican background in choral music, this program was a most satisfying trip down memory lane.

Thomas Heywood at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Geelong

Saturday’s festival program concluded with a concert by internationally acclaimed organist, Thomas Heywood.  This was held at St Paul’s Anglican Church.  The program included music from the seventeenth to the twentieth century, and included a number of pieces transcribed for organ, including the final piece, the exciting and frenetic Finale – Allegro con fuoco from Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor – “From the New World”, Op. 95.

Sunday’s program began with a celebration of Mass at St Mary’s Basilica.  The choir of St Mary of the Angels presented Missa in Honorem St Ceciliae, by Joseph Gruber, and Haec Dies (Psalm 118:1) by Healey Willan.

The final concert of this year’s Festival of Sacred Music in Geelong’s Historic Churches was Song of Songs presented by Ensemble 642.  Hannah Lane (Italian triple harp) and Nicholas Pollock (theorbo) were joined by guest artist soprano Roberta Diamond.  The program comprised sixteenth and seventeenth settings of verses from The Song of Songs and several instrumental pieces for duet or solo.  Roberta Diamond specialises in the interpretation of renaissance and baroque music, and showed phenomenal vocal technique, interpreting this florid and sensual music.

All three musician are masters of their instruments.  The ensemble created by three musicians, completely attuned, was spellbinding.

This concert dove-tailed perfectly with the unison chant of the earlier concert by e21 – showing a development of sacred music from unison to harmony.

The concert ended the weekend of beautiful music making on a sublime note.

Next year marks the tenth year of The Festival of Sacred Music in Geelong’s Historic Churches.

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.