For its 10th anniversary, the Melbourne Bach Choir has chosen a great work, which is celebrating its own 110th anniversary. For the inside story, Classic Melbourne turns to our regular writer, opera singer Deborah Humble, who literally will play a part in this performance.
Designed to be the second part of one of the grandest things in English music, a trilogy of massive oratorios telling of the foundation and ultimate purpose of the Christian church, Elgar’s The Kingdom was composed as a commission for the Birmingham Music Festival in 1906.
The work received its Australian premiere performance shortly thereafter but has not been heard in Melbourne since the 1940s. On September 18 the roof of the Melbourne Town Hall will be raised with the sound of more than 200 musicians performing this epic religious work as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Melbourne Bach Choir under the direction of Rick Prakhoff.
The storyline of The Kingdom tells of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the events of the following days as experienced by St Peter (bass), St John (tenor), the Blessed Virgin Mary (soprano) and Mary Magdalene (mezzo-soprano).
Elgar never finished the trilogy which he hoped was to be the religious equivalent of Wagner’s Ring Cycle: three massive works to be performed on consecutive days. The first instalment, “The Apostles” was completed in 1903 but the final and most ambitious work, “The Last Judgement,” remained unfinished up until his death in 1934.
Never gaining the popularity of The Dream of Gerontius, The Apostles or The Music Makers, The Kingdom is nonetheless considered by many to be Elgar’s finest and most moving work. Sir Andrew Davis chose the masterpiece for the opening of the BBC Proms in 2014 and described the composition as “Elgar at its finest.”
Written at the mid point of his most productive period which began with the Enigma Variations (1899) and the Dream of Gerontius (1900) and ended with his two symphonies and violin concerto (1908-1911), The Kingdom is written in a late romantic style and blends typically rich, large orchestral scoring with elements of the great traditional English oratorio; stirring choruses, climactic arias and serene and beautifully declamatory recitatives.
The soprano aria “The sun goeth down” is considered to be one of the most haunting, memorable and beautiful melodies Elgar ever wrote. Although it became a popular solo concert piece during Elgar’s lifetime it is best heard delivered within the context Elgar intended, as a serene confession of faith.
The decision to perform the work came after a proposal from Dr Greg Hurworth, a former choir member and enthusiast of Elgar’s music. Dr Hurworth is the principal sponsor of the concert, which will be dedicated to his late wife Dr Ros Hurworth, as well as being a fundraiser for the Cancer Centre at St Vincent’s Hospital.
Music Director Rick Prakhoff who has been with the choir since its formation in 2005 states that, as the name suggests, the performance of baroque music and in particular the Passions of Bach are central to the raison d’etre of the Melbourne Bach Choir. Its members however are no strangers to more modern choral works having performed Kodaly, Grandage and Tavener in recent times.
The year 2016 has also seen other developments. Prakhoff established a chamber group within the main choir in order to expand its repertoire and there has been the exciting development of a Choral Scholarship program generously funded by the Ian Potter Foundation.
“The importance of groups such as the Melbourne Bach Choir within the Melbourne musical community is manifold,” says Prakhoff. “The most obvious is the joy it gives its members who get the opportunity to perform large choral works accompanied by professional musicians and to sing alongside some of the best soloists in the country.
“There is the added bonus that each of our performances is a fundraising venture which helps give performers and audience alike a sense of altruism beyond the usual joyous indulgence that comes with being part of a wonderful performance.”
Elgar’s The Kingdom will be performed at the Melbourne Town Hall at 2.30pm on Sunday, September 18.
Soloists will be Miriam Gordon-Stewart (soprano), Deborah Humble (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Goodwin (tenor) and James Clayton (bass).
Tickets can be purchased at www.trybooking.com/MCDT