I always look forward to hearing the Australian Chamber Choir, one of my favourite ensembles, whose repertoire excites, stimulates and revives our souls. This program of golden sacred music opened with Palestrina’s sublime setting of the Stabat Mater. The magnificent stained glass window backdrop in the Macedon Church of the Resurrection added pictorial colourful hues befitting this blessed program. An excellent setting – but perhaps the venue space didn’t allow for the physical separation of the double choir of eight voices, which could have enhanced the wondrous baroque tonality of the sound. Douglas Lawrence masterfully held the rhythm, melody and harmony in equal importance throughout, with no voice ever being overstated, and there were many peaks in final cadences.
I was just a little surprised then by the hasty tempo of the rather dynamic opening – “At the cross her station keeping, Mary stood in sorrow weeping,” where I wanted to be immersed in the sublime meditation to follow. I did not feel the resignation, gentle lamentation and calm introspection of Mary’s sorrow. The full ensemble settled into a more even blend and balance as the tempo steadied and the performance flowed with strength, forwardness and musical precision. Where the text spoke of anguish, pleading and torment, the ACC lifted in united energy and awe through the glorious triads and suspensions.
Impeccable pitch and articulation of the text are a feature of the ACC’s performances, and throughout, the tempered contrasts of dynamics in response to the text was scholarly and splendid. It is a joy to hear the Stabat Mater – and with the grand final cadence “While my body here decays, May my soul your goodness praise, Safe in heaven eternally,” the ensemble affirmed a celestial height.
The Melbourne Baroque Orchestra led by prominent lead violinist David Irving provided a consistently sympathetic accompaniment in Mozart’s Requiem. From the opening lines of the Introitus the ensemble embraced this quasi-symphonic work with full dramatic fervour and choral richness. The Kyrie was an exciting demonstration of precise rhythmic enunciations and fugal entries, with individual instruments enhancing the vocal phrases with counterpoint and sympathetic phrases.
In Dies Irae the soloists – Elspeth Bawden, Elizabeth Anderson, Timothy Reynolds and Oliver Mann – ably demonstrated a rich and colourful delivery of the intertwining texts, and the ACC gave us the full range of dynamic contrasts with unified control and sensitivity. The Offertorium was joyful, the Sanctus – Benedictus expressed a deeper spirituality with the choral basses shining with their “Osanna in Excelsis”, and Lawrence was in command of seamless tempo changes. Again with the Agnus Dei, I was hoping for more calming, peaceful twilight tones, more gentleness and mystery, and a more restrained tempo with less declamation.
This performance, with uplifting solos, splendid fugues, and professional delivery from a choir whose sound can appear to come from over a hundred voices in their final cadences, was highly applauded by a packed house in a splendid venue.
Julie McErlain reviewed the Australian Chamber Choir with the Melbourne Baroque Orchestra on April 8, 2018, at the Macedon Church of the Resurrection.