A gem revealed

18 October 2021

Yet another concert cancelled, but in this case the WASO Chorus and UWA Symphonic Chorus were redeployed and Leon Levy finds the program immensely rewarding.

‘WASO Chorus Sings’, WASO Chorus & UWA Symphonic Chorus ·
St Mary’s Cathedral, 17 October 2021 ·

The West Australian Symphony Orchestra certainly has form when it comes to creating something positive out of the disruptions caused by COVID – last year’s Studio Ensemble series immediately springs to mind. On this occasion the resources of the WASO Chorus and UWA Symphonic Chorus, released by the postponement of Deborah Cheetham’s Eumeralla, were re-deployed into a short concert that drew in a crowd despite the relative unfamiliarity of the main work, Dvořák’s Mass in D, and then rewarded the audience with a performance that did full justice to the fine piece that it is.

Chosen with intelligence and sensitivity, the three programmed works were each written for inaugural church events, which provided a satisfying linking theme.

Handel’s Zadok the Priest was composed for the coronation of George II in 1727 and has been performed at the crowning of every subsequent British monarch. Not only is it played to excess on classical radio worldwide, but it opened UWA Choral Society’s recent 90th birthday concert only quite recently. And yet, such is the mastery with which the composer creates an accumulating sense of anticipation, that when the opening proclamation is unleashed in a blaze of choral glory, we hear one of the thrilling moments in all of music!

And so it was on this occasion under conductor Andrew Foote, with organist Jacinta Jakovcevic and the combined choirs almost raising the roof of St Mary’s Cathedral.

It is perhaps something of a surprise to find a comparatively modest choral work in the thick of Dvořák’s mature output. But his Mass in D of 1887, with organ accompaniment, evidently meant a great deal to the composer who described it as “an expression of thanks for this great gift, for having been given the opportunity successfully to complete a work in praise of the Highest”. Written for the consecration of the private chapel of his friend and patron Josef Hlavka at the latter’s summer residence, Luzany castle, the work reflects a pure and fervent faith. Orchestrated for the English publisher Novello in 1892, the mass quickly achieved popularity in that country: yet it had to wait until 1963 for the original organ setting to be published.

In the event, and with Jakovcevic again accompanying, the work received a performance worthy of the inspiration that went into its composition. True, there were moments when the cavernous acoustic largely defeated clarity of diction; and yet the opposite side of the coin was represented both by thrilling, cathedral-filling climaxes and well-sustained tone during serene passages. And so, while the Gloria almost felt stranded in the aural mud at its start, “et in terra pax” emerged all the more effectively and went on to its satisfying conclusion.  Rapid runs largely defied the acoustic cloud and all sections of the chorus rose admirably to the challenge, not least the relatively small tenor department who remained clear and without strain whenever their line was exposed. In both the Sanctus and Benedictus, the impression was that the musicians had the measure of the acoustic.

Bruckner’s brief unaccompanied motet Locus Iste (This place) was sung with a poised, refined quality, and if there were members of the audience in need of a heart-easing moment during these uncertain times, this was surely it.

Foote paid tribute to the artistic planning team at WASO, but all involved in this enterprising concert deserve gratitude for giving light of day to a truly fine corner of Dvořák’s creative genius.

WASO’s next concert is “Landscape and Wonder” on 4-5 November 2021.

Pictured top: Andrew Foote conducts the WASO Chorus and UWA Symphonic Chorus. Photo supplied

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Author —
Leon Levy

Leon Levy‘s career was spent in commerce, but in retirement continues a lifetime’s interest in the arts generally and choral singing in particular. He enjoys occasional reviewing with its challenge of giving total focus to each performance. Leon remains attracted to playground slides under the cover of supervising his grandchildren.

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