This extraordinary concert by the Australian Chamber Choir, directed by Douglas Lawrence, was breathtakingly moving. An inspired selection of pieces was programmed in a masterly way which would ensure the audience could only last the emotional distance with ample tissues to comfort the widespread flow of tears.
(Romanticism? – some years ago I was to accompany a trumpet student performing Ravel’s Pavane Pour Une Enfante Defunte. The student and teacher were shocked that the piece was classified as “Romantic”. “I wouldn’t play this music to my girlfriend on a Saturday night” they both said. )
Today, the excellent accompanying program notes appropriately dispensed with any expectations patrons may have had for wanting a lighter, more recognised notion of Romantic music, while asking us to ponder that musical Romanticism may be simply felt and known when we hear it? “‘Heartfelt” would be an understatement describing today’s performance. The emotional depths throughout were set with the striking opening of Brahms’ WARUM – (“Why Is Light Cast Upon The Sorrowful”) – a quasi symphonic vocal motet composed to serious biblical text. In a moment the opening sustained chord which immediately faded from joyful light to darkness in an instant, impressed us as a demonstration of the ACC’s balanced dramatic swells and dynamic range, with tonal richness in the building crescendos or dying diminuendos. We know of Brahms’ admittance to being melancholic, but Lawrence never let this work become despairing or resigned. The flow of dynamics and tempo today with carefully balanced suspensions, produced a solid beauty, rich colour, and fortissimo cadences which resonated then lingered in this acoustic. With the final line of the text – “death is to become my sleep” the bass voices darkly enhanced the profound final notes.
For Anne Boyd’s “As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams” the ACC ensemble formed a circle, the symbol of perfection, infinity, timelessness. The work evolved from unison humming, slow-moving progressions, the pure phonetics felt more like sonorities from the composer’s affinity with the mediaeval Japanese era. The choir successfully portrayed the colour of Japanese musical instruments without unbalancing the vocal dreamlike quality. Male and female voices blended, crystallised together, and were always precise in shape and articulation. In this work the ACC showed diverse contemporary choral techniques –elevated solos floated above earth like a shining light, or smooth glissandos blended with chromatic and whole-tone steps in unearthly cadences.
We were unfairly brought back to earth with three Monteverdi Madrigals. With drier eyes now, the audience relished this well-timed addition of delightful clarity and confidence in lighter contrapuntal execution. The third madrigal, “Cruda Amarilli” showed contrasting solidity and an almost hymnal authority and stature.
Lawrence spoke of Barber’s work as “a pinnacle in the choral repertoire”, and Twelfth Night and Agnus Deis howed the ACC as a glorious group who never fail in technique, timbre or connection with the audience. The Agnus Dei floated to the heavens with the gentlest pulse, more splendid crescendos and intimate dynamics. The final cadence was a breathtaking ppp (pianissimo), causing my companion to say , “That was amazing.” There were tears.
Following Interval, “And The Rain” by Alan Holley, was given its premier performance, and this modern and challenging work was performed with a fine display of a variety of colours and rhythmic inflexions. The poetic text had moments of sobriety and piety, the singing exemplary. The audience warmly applauded Elgar’s masterpieces “As Torrents In Summer” from King Olaf, and Lux Aeterna (Nimrod) which Lawrence kept nicely flowing forward with an ease of graceful motion celebrating the joy of eternal light. More beauty came with Brenton Broadstock’s “I Had a Dream”, a musical memory or spiritual inspiration for the life and soul of musician Michael Easton. Poignant, humble, delicately performed with almost simplicity and resignation.
Delightfully completing this excellent program, were Trois Chansonsby Ravel. Nicolette – Colourful, quirky, sweet story-telling, Three Birds of Paradise– allowing ACC soloists to fly, and Ronde – a complex rapid galloping tale to end the concert with colour, flair and enchantment. No more tears.
Lawrence’s unfailing energy and generosity continued with two welcomed encores – Rheinberger’s Abendlied, and a repetition of Elgar’s As Torrents In Summer – gentle, warm, flowing, sending golden classical harmony and resonating chords to the curved ceiling above.
Julie McErlain heard the Australian Chamber Choir at Our Lady Of Mount Carmel Middle Park on June 24, 2018.