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Baroque distinction

Review: Perth Symphonic Chorus, “Magnificent Bach” ⋅
Winthrop Hall, May 18 ⋅
Review by Leon Levy ⋅

On an unusually busy choral weekend the Perth Symphony Chorus was in competition with both Voyces and WASO Chorus as well as – perhaps on a less elevated level – the unfolding Federal election count. Those audience members who turned up in a jubilant or despondent frame of mind would have found spiritual sustenance to support either mood; with Bach, Vivaldi and Dr Margaret Pride and her forces we were in the best of hands.

Bach dominated, as suggested by the title of the concert “Magnificent Bach”; but if this was intended to establish his Magnificat in D major BWV 243 as the focus of the evening, it was something of a misnomer. As the opening work, it was hampered in the first instance by a chilly Winthrop Hall that was not filled to capacity and latecomers who ought to have been led unobtrusively to the vacant seats further back.

The performance was prefaced by a brief but helpful introduction given by Dr Pride, illustrated by the musicians. The hall acoustic was sympathetic to the orchestra but had the choir sounding unexpectedly subdued. By the fourth verse ‘Omnes Generationes’ however, the forces were coming into balance and ‘Sicut locatus est’ was marked by firm singing and full tone. Similarly the challenges of the closing ‘Gloria’, before it reaches its jubilant and joyous home run, were finely controlled. The commendable idea of drawing soloists from within the chorus was not wholly successful. What no doubt worked well in a rehearsal studio did not readily command the comparatively vast spaces of Winthrop Hall, although alto Claire Lane and bass Brett Peart were especially successful in getting into their vocal stride and giving pleasure in the process.

Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 4 in G major BWV 1049 was given in tribute to Adrian Maydwell, musician and doctor, who during the week had tragically lost his life in an accident. A more eloquent salute than that provided by Bach, soloists Paul Wright (violin) and Emily Clements and Laura van Rijn on flute and the Perth Baroque Orchestra could hardly be imagined. The performance, perfectly judged and executed, featured glorious interplay between the soloists.

In terms of impact, it was Vivaldi’s Gloria that proved to be the choral highlight of the evening. This time the somewhat recessed choral sound cleared quickly to give way to wholly engaged and expressive singing. Claire Lane once again gave particular pleasure, while in ‘Domine Deus’, the extended solo part provided soprano Hyoshin Kang with an opportunity to settle into her role and perhaps be inspired by the exquisite oboe playing of Anna Rodger. In ‘Quoniam tu solus Sanctus’ the choir matched the vibrant orchestral opening, while in the concluding ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’ the energy and clarity of the choral lines supported by Jenny Coleman’s clarion trumpet, brought the work to a stirring conclusion.

Dr Pride brings distinction to whatever she and her collaborators tackle. On this occasion Wright and the Perth Baroque Orchestra provided a golden thread throughout the evening which was as much their achievement as anyone else’s.

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Group of choristers
Calendar, Classical music, Featured, May 19, Music

Music: Magnificent Bach

18 May @ Winthrop Hall ·
Presented by Perth Symphonic Chorus ·

Indulge your love of Baroque music and come listen to the marvellous Perth Symphonic Chorus present Bach’s Magnificat and the Vivaldi Gloria, and Perth Baroque Orchestra perform Bach’s fourth Brandenburg Concerto. Bach’s virtuosic and exhilarating music never fails to entrance and the joyous nature of Vivaldi’s Gloria makes it an audience favourite.

Saturday 18 May at 7:30pm at University of Western Australia Winthrop Hall. Tickets $30-$69 on (08) 6488 2440 or www.ticketswa.com/event/magnificent-bach

More info
W: http://www.perthsymphonicchorus.com.au/
E:  hngrigsby@gmail.com

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Choral, Classical music, Music, News, Performing arts, Reviews

A choral Christmas treat

Review: Perth Symphonic Chorus and Perth Baroque Orchestra, Handel’s Messiah ·
Perth Concert Hall, 22 December ·
Review by Leon Levy ·

For some 30 years Handel’s fame had been based on a large body of operatic works. Thus it is arguable that had not changing fashions pushed the composer in the direction of oratorio – for which his dramatic instincts were well-suited – the world might conceivably have been deprived of the masterpiece that is Messiah. For the work responded to the particular texts, drawn by Charles Jennens from the King James Bible and Book of Common Prayer, in a way that yet another operatic libretto was, surely, unlikely to.

Messiah
Advertisement for the first London performance.

The premiere, a charity occasion held in Dublin in April 1772, was well-received. In order to accommodate the expected crowd, ladies were requested not to wear hoops in their dresses and gentlemen to dispense with their swords (a tradition that was respected by the Perth audience on this occasion, along with the custom of standing during the Hallelujah chorus). The reception given to the first London performance, almost a year later, was, however, less enthusiastic: this was perhaps shaped by the belief that the work’s sacred subject matter was not suited to theatrical performance by secular singers. In any event, the work was described merely as “A New Sacred Oratorio”, shorn of its name “Messiah”. But there was no resisting its power, and from 1750 onwards there were regular London performances, followed elsewhere with increasing frequency.

Fresh from an exceedingly fine Remembrance Day concert, Dr Margaret Pride’s Perth Symphonic Chorus was, on this occasion, accompanied by the Perth Baroque Orchestra under Paul Wright. Taking one’s seat, one noted a band numbering just 25, well below the strength of most modern authentic performances. But towering above them was a group of some 125 choristers, many times the number of singers that the composer would have employed! However, any concerns regarding imbalances between instruments and singers were quickly banished, for Pride deployed her choral forces in a way that conveyed a sense of quiet strength, and throughout the performance the singing felt proportionate to the orchestral sound.

And what a fine sound the hard-working Perth Baroque Orchestra produced, setting the tone in the opening instrumental Symphony for all that was to follow. Similarly, tenor Robert Macfarlane established the standard for his fellow soloists, bringing colour and feeling to his “Comfort Ye” recitative, and even runs and convincing decorations in the following “Every Valley”.

“But who may abide” proved to be a less than successful introduction to bass James Clayton and counter tenor Tobias Cole, whose contrasting voice-types did not sit well together in the shared aria. Each, however, went on to contribute enormously to the evening: the counter tenor rapidly establishing his credentials in his next recitative and aria, and demonstrating well-matched duet-singing with the soprano in “He shall feed his flock”, and again in Part II with a heartfelt “He was despised”.

Clayton, too, went on to great things, revealing wonderful vocal splendour throughout, and using ornamentation, firm line and clear diction to bring life to all of his singing. And in “The trumpet shall sound” his vibrant projection was fully matched by Jenny Coleman’s gleaming and excitingly decorated trumpet accompaniment.

Soprano Janet Todd may have been a late replacement for two successive ailing soloists, but she rose splendidly to the occasion. With a fresh and pure tone, words feelingly articulated and a lovely stage presence, she met the most taxing of challenges.

The choir reflected all of the trademarks of Pride’s training. “Since by man” was just one of many examples of their pedigree, but throughout the evening their contribution brought unalloyed pleasure.

If it may be considered an honour to have brought a year of fine music-making in Perth Concert Hall to a conclusion, this truly fine Messiah was deserving of that distinction.

Pictured top is Perth Symphonic Chorus, conducted by Dr Margaret Pride, performing Handel’s Messiah at Perth Concert Hall (NB this photograph is not of the 2018 performance).

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