Music for a traditional Melbourne Christmas

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Published: 28th November, 2017

Every year it’s the same delicious dilemma: which of the offerings on  a groaning musical Christmas table tempts us most?  The sensory pleasure of traditional concerts at this time makes the food and drink image very apt, although you can sample a lot of it without feeling too full! This year  we have the usual menu – a traditional one – that offers plenty of choice, without compromising good taste, and offers specials for the more adventurous listener.

But enough imagery! There is far too much for Classic Melbourne to cover (we rely on our service of a free calendar for musicians to list their own events, and suggest you look there for the right one for you and  your family). Smaller city-based performances abound this year, and have the advantages of being closer to home and less expensive, without compromising quality, such is the breadth of musical talent in this city.

As an editor I suppose I have the pick of events, except that I’m acutely aware that other writers bring more to the table in certain reviews. An early music specialist would be best for Gloriana’s Messiah at St Peter’s, although the choir is quoting a previous Classic Melbourne review:

The Choir gave a lively account of the many choruses, singing with precision and commitment. Moments of beautifully atmospheric blending of voices in the more solemn moments were contrasted with stirring outbursts.” (Classic Melbourne)

But this year the Gloriana performance is on the same weekend that the Australian Chamber Orchestra bravely takes on Bach’s massive work, the Christmas Oratorio. The Brandenburgs are excited that, in addition to the ever-popular Noel!Noel! their performance of Messiah promises “a heavenly synthesis of the Brandenburg Choir, Orchestra, and shining young vocal soloists.”

Each year the two biggest performances of Messiah are those of  the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Choir, and the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic. Acoustically, the MSO offers the sympathetic Hamer Hall, but the RMP has that invaluable aura of history and nostalgia that comes with St Paul’s (Carols in the Cathedral) and the Town Hall (Messiah). And while the Hamer Hall organ’s whereabouts remain shrouded in mystery, the Melbourne Town Hall’s historic pipe organ is heard most gloriously  in the RMP’s renditions of the Hallelujah Chorus.

So in deciding which Christmas performances to go to, I’m going to repeat my choices of just two years ago, after which I reported back to this site:

The Royal Melbourne Philharmonic choir is always a must on my  list. The dilemma is whether to attend Messiah or one of the Carols at Saint Paul’s concerts … and this year I resolved that by going to both, the latter in the company of eight friends or family!

The Hallelujah Chorus is one of many but is often used to judge the whole performance. If so, this was a great one, as both choir and orchestra, (supplemented by the magnificent Town Hall organ) gave their all to this powerful and emotional part of the oratorio. There was much to praise in almost every part of this performance but suffice it to say that the final Amen rounded it off beautifully, the sopranos bell-like to the very last high note, as Wailes drew a great swell of sound from singers and players alike.

Within the week, your reviewer was again in the company of the Royal Philharmonic choir, for a less formal concert despite the imposing setting of St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral. The instruments were mainly brass with piano, organ, harp and percussion (and solo flute) the other main elements in the pleasing accompaniment.

After a short fanfare there was a welcome from Andrew Wailes the conductor who introduced the three choirs: the Australian Children’s Choir, Melbourne University Choral Society and of course the RMP. Making a fine sound when combined, each choir also had its strengths, which allowed for a varied and balanced program. Having a number of well-known carols for the audience to join in is always a popular element of this concert.”

If you need more convincing, listen to this recording of the RMP from 2013. Just don’t leave it too long to get your tickets!

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