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Moving musical tribute to Armistice

Review: Perth Symphonic Chorus and Perth Philharmonic Orchestra ‘Centenary Remembrance Concert’ ⋅
Perth Concert Hall, November 11 ⋅
Review by Leon Levy ⋅

On Sunday November 11 crowds flocked to war memorials across the nation in order to attend centenary commemorations of the First World War armistice. Was it possible that those who would have made their way home from such ceremonies, many in deep reflection, would venture out again in sufficient numbers to fill the Perth Concert Hall and justify the judgement of the Perth Symphonic Chorus that there was still more to be said and absorbed? A great number of people clearly thought that there was.

Gabriel Fauré appears to have had a casual attitude toward the composition of his Requiem: the man clearly had a gift and required no particular inspiration in order to exercise it to most beautiful effect. On this occasion his popular Requiem received a refined and assured performance, both in the singing from the chorus and the orchestral accompaniment from the Perth Philharmonic Orchestra. A hallmark was the firm, focused choral sound maintained even at pianissimo.

The men and women of the Perth Symphonic Choir on stage.
Perth Symphonic Chorus. Photo supplied

Moments of distinction abounded: the perfect foil of the saccharine-free solo violin in the Sanctus; the Hosanna delivered with strength but without bombast and Pie Jesu beautifully essayed by soloist Sara Macliver. Libera Me was another highlight led by the bass-baritone Christopher Richardson with firm, youthful tone. The choir demonstrated fine unison singing and projected strength without breaking stylistic bounds.

If Elgar was the first British composer to reach an international audience, Vaughan Williams was arguably the second; and yet, despite his prodigious output, Vaughan Williams’ representation in the repertoire is scant, relying on a handful of regularly repeated shorter works.

But deep in the Vaughan Williams archive is a cantata composed in the mid 1930s as the composer, scarred from wartime service on the front line, responded to a growing concern that the worsening political situation in Europe was going to lead to yet another war. In making his plea for peace, the composer drew on a variety of literary sources that are unified by the repetition of the phrase Dona Nobis Pacem (give us peace) by which the work is known. Those disparate texts include Walt Whitman’s Civil War poems, Victorian orator John Bright’s Crimean War lament and biblical yearnings for peace.

The urgency of the opening Agnus Dei (from the Latin Mass) was conveyed in Macliver’s intense and assured singing. The movement closed with soft drum beats, a sinister suggestion of what was to come. In Beat! Beat! Drums! the approaching cataclysm was caught in full by the performers. In the central two movements the composer uses personal stories to take the listener to the heart of the matter and, in the process, pierces the heart. In Reconciliation a soldier reflects “for my enemy is dead, a man as divine as myself is dead” while Dirge for Two Veterans describes the tragic fate of a father and son. Here Perth Symphonic Chorus reached an emotional peak, articulating the searing centre of Vaughan Williams’ plea for peace. More than the Requiem, this was surely the defining musical statement for the occasion.

All performers were excellent under the expert and sensitive guidance of conductor Dr Margaret Pride. There were several dramatic and visual aspects to the presentation; the most successful was the prefacing of each movement with an eloquent declamation of the text by actor Igor Sas which proved a masterstroke in the context of what the day was all about.

Pride and her forces are to be congratulated for commemorating the centenary of Armistice in such a moving way and for lavishing on the memories of those who fell and those whose lives were forever changed such a heartfelt and magnificently executed tribute.

 

Pictured top: members of Perth Symphonic Chorus and the Kelmscott-Pinjarra 10th Light Horse Memorial Troop. Photo Margaret Pride

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