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.
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.
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.