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

Western District Choral Festival 2018: Sunday, June 17th, 2018

The Space, Geelong Grammar School

Festival hosts – The Geelong Chorale

Today’s festival was a celebration of song and the joy that people obtain from singing together in groups.  Fourteen choirs participated in an afternoon of fine music making and friendship.  It was a chance for choirs to perform at their best.  They did not disappoint.

The program began with the host choir, The Geelong Chorale, and was introduced by John Stubbings OAM, who acted as MC throughout the afternoon.

The music ranged from a 16th century madrigal, to folk songs from around the world, through popular songs, songs from musical theatre and old favourites.  Even opera had its place, with a delightful rendition of ‘Painless Opera’ by Phyllis Wolfe-White by the Geelong Youth Choir.  The smallest group was 8 voices (The Geelong Youth Chamber Choir), the largest around 40 voices (The Geelong Chorale).  There were youth choirs, mixed choirs, a female choir (Welsh Ladies Choir), and a male choir (International Harvester Choir).  The youngest singers were of primary school age, and the oldest at least 90.

As Geelong is at the eastern end of the WDCF region, many choirs came from the Geelong area.  The two groups from further afield, Colac Chorale and Apollo Bay Community Choir were warmly welcomed and greatly enhanced the afternoon’s singing.

The afternoon ended with all singers merging onto the stage for a massed choir performance of “Africa”, conducted by Jodie Townsend, Director of Music at Geelong Grammar School.

It is interesting to note that The International Harvester Male Chorus (formed in 1943) may be the oldest continuously performing choir in Australia in its current form.  Raise the Bar, the adult section of The Geelong Youth Choir will be the featured choir for a forthcoming performance of “The Events” at GPAC.  Geelong Harmony Chorus are fresh from a very successful Sweet Adelines Convention in Hobart, where they were placed fourth overall, and third in their section.

At the close of the Festival, Frank Sykes, Vice-President of The Geelong Chorale, handed over the Festival to The Merri Singers from Warrnambool who will host the festival in 2019.

Participating Choirs:  The Geelong Chorale, Colac Chorale, Wondrous Merry, Apollo Bay Community Choir, Geelong Youth Choir, Raise the Bar Vocal Group, Geelong Harmony Chorus, Welsh Ladies Choir, International Harvester Choir, Sing Australia, Geelong, Vox Box, U3A Geelong Choir, Geelong College Community Choir, The Choir of Geelong Grammar School.

Thanks to The Geelong Chorale, especially their hard working committee, and secretary Angela West, Geelong Grammar School and Jodie Townsend, for accommodating the festival in the excellent performing arts space and all participating choirs and their conductors and accompanists.  Thanks also to City of Greater Geelong for their support.

Download a copy of the Western District Choral Festival 2018 program here.

 

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