Virtuosic choir on the record

1 October 2019

Review: Giovanni Consort, ‘Giovanni Album Launch’ ⋅
St Mary’s Church, South Perth, 28 September ⋅
Review by Sandra Bowdler ⋅

The Giovanni Consort has been performing in Perth for 24 years now, and is well-known for its choral stylings of Renaissance and later music.  The ensemble launched their first commercial recording on the weekend at St Mary’s Anglican church in South Perth, one of the many music-friendly ecclesiastical venues in the Perth area, with a lovely acoustic for unaccompanied choral singing. It is also where the recording of the disc took place.

The first three items (the performance followed the album track order) derived from the English Renaissance, conducted by Hugh Lydon, artistic director of the Consort.  Robert Parsons’ version of Ave Maria, William Byrd’s Laudibus in sanctis and Robert Ramsey’s Sleep fleshly birth all displayed the group’s excellent balance, warm accurate tone and a good use of the acoustics. The Byrd work, based on Psalm 150 (‘Praise ye the Lord’, in the King James version), highlighted the tenor and soprano voices in joyful fashion, contrasting with the Ramsey work written for the death of Prince Henry, heir to the English throne (1612), sad but exquisite.

We then leapt to the 19th century for a work by Bruckner, the motet Çhristus factus est (Christ became obedient), a work of more varied contrasting moods and tonalities than the earlier items, and this time showing off the bass voices.  All the singers, it must be said, displayed great purity of tone as well as well-maintained discipline and commitment. This and all subsequent items were conducted by Kate McNamara (also music director of St Mary’s). A complete contrast ensued from the early 20th century, with Frederic Bridge’s light-hearted The Goslings, which musically references Mendelssohn with echoes of the Wagnerian Liebestod. From World War I came Hubert Parry’s My soul, there is a country, presented with sonority and feeling.

The last bracket of items spanned the last 150 years or so, beginning with Duruflé’s Ubi caritas (Where charity is), which, we were told, drew on Gregorian chant using a modern harmonic language. In some ways it was the evening’s highlight, displaying the choir’s virtuosity in close harmony and ability to communicate feeling. Something really completely different followed, Australian composer Stephen Leek’s Kondalila, inspired by a Queensland water fall and comprising bird and water sounds, discreetly accompanied by small percussion instruments played by the singers as they wove around the church, while we were encouraged to close our eyes and immerse ourselves in the magic bushland setting.  The final item was another setting of Ubi caritas by Western Australian composer Perry Joyce, very melodic for a contemporary work, and providing a fitting ending for a remarkably varied concert.

The recording itself reproduces the warm ambience of the concert, and provides both an excellent showcase for the Giovanni Consort, and also a sampling of choral music down the centuries, even if one might have liked something from the Baroque period – perhaps a future recording?

The Giovanni Consort album is available via online streaming devices (Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play etc.)

Picture top: Members of the Giovanni Consort. Photo David Penco.

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Author —
Sandra Bowdler

Sandra Bowdler is an archaeologist who has been writing about music for some twenty years, most recently for Opera magazine (UK), Bachtrack and Handel News. She is also the author of “Handel’s Operas in Australia, a performance history” Händel Jarhbuch (2017). Her favourite piece of playground equipment would be the picnic bench with smoked salmon sandwiches and champagne.

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