Reviews

Attune - Canberra Choral Society

 

Attune, Canberra Choral Society.  At Canberra Girls Grammar Hall, September 17, 2022.

From the Review by Rob Kennedy, Limelight

Featuring the world premiere of two new works by Australian composers Ella Macens and Michael Dooley, the Canberra Choral Society celebrated 70 years of music-making in a concert of glorious songs, led by the multi-talented composer, conductor, singer and Music Director, Dan Walker.

Canberra Choral Society. Photo © Peter Hislop

CCS commissioned these works to commemorate their platinum anniversary and to add to the choral repertoire. Both works, written for SATB choir and chamber ensemble, embrace the themes of renewal and celebration that draw upon imagery from the natural world.

Originating in 1952 with just a small group of people who sang together for enjoyment, the CCS has performed hundreds of concerts over the years. With 17 musical directors since 1952, the diversity of music they perform crosses genres, and they champion new works by Australian composers. In 2002, their 50th anniversary was celebrated with the release of Peter Campbell’s book, Canberra Choral Society: A Capital Choir for a Capital City.

The assembled forces of the CCS and the CCS Instrumental Ensemble began with G.F. Handel’s Zadok the Priest. Sounding full and strong, the group offered a stirring rendition of this famous work.

Then onto Songs from the High Country by local composer Michael Dooley. This work celebrates the natural diversity of the Canberra region, its five sections representing the varying aspects of landscape and daily occurrence of life in the high country. Atmospheric and floating to begin with, the instruments fluttered across an eclectic introduction before the choir came in, changing the mood to a light and even, tonal choral work. The orchestration was light and clear, somewhat piano-led and the choir, even and plaintive. Highly coloured and refreshing, this uplifting work showed what a competent composer Dooley is.

Then came Handel’s Coronation Anthems. These psalms, filled with light and joyous music, fitted perfectly between the two contemporary pieces. Sounding wonderfully uniform and clear across all voices, the choir sang out with great emphasis, and was accompanied very well by the instrumental players. Consisting mainly of strings with one percussionist, a few brass and woodwind players, they produced a gorgeously strong, clear and balanced performance.

Canberra Choral Society prepares for its 70th anniversary concert. Photo © Peter Hislop

The final work of the night, Attune: An ode to the choir by Ella Macens with lyrics by Sarah Rice, is a highly original concept. Writing a choral work about a choir may have only been possible in this day and age. As with the Dooley piece, this work featured no soloist, due to the nature of writing for an amateur choral group.

It begins with its ode to the Soprano, then Alto, Tenor and Bass. Then one for Tutti. The themes within the work are based on renewal, reconnection, and togetherness. The Soprano is a poignant piece, and it’s not just for sopranos. It’s a warm, rich work with considerable depth. Artistic and colourful touches flowed across the instruments and each voice. It moved from uplifting to lament with echoes of Celtic music.

With no break between pieces, Alto built on what began the work, but Tenor soared with passion and grand themes, even cinematic. But Bass, for just voice, was a sad yet uplifting tune that flowed from the choir until it whispered away, literally.

The Tutti jumped into life with a high, single note on the piano. A melancholy tune from the instrumental ensemble flowed until the choir entered with a soothing song. A beautiful refrain for solo violin filled the space before both groups came together to create a powerful climax. Then, entering new territory and just before the end, the music spread its wings to sing in praise of singing.

If only more people had been there to experience this, they would have heard the culmination of 70 years of excellent choral music by the CCS. Macens, Rice and Dooley took to the stage to receive gifts and generous applause that was rightly deserved.

 


 

ATTUNE - Canberra Choral Society

ATTUNE, Canberra Choral Society.  At Canberra Girls Grammar Hall, September 17, 2022.

From the Review by Ian McLean, City News

Canberra Choral Society’s 70th Anniversary concert conducted by Dan Walker. Photo by Peter Hislop.

THE Canberra Choral Society (CCS) is one of several community arts organisations (Canberra Philharmonic Society is another) this year celebrating a 70-year continuous contribution to the artistic landscape in Canberra. 

The choir had humble beginnings. A note was placed on the music room at the now Brassey Hotel, then a guesthouse, inviting “anyone who can sing” to attend the first meeting of the Canberra Choral Group. That band of singers grew into the CCS presenting two major symphonic choral works each year as well as smaller, more intimate concerts of a cappella singing and piano or organ accompanied pieces.

Formation year was 1952, just as Australia welcomed a new Queen. She was crowned Elizabeth II a year later so it was appropriate that the brilliant Handel coronation anthem “Zadok the Priest”, originally written for the 1727 coronation of George II and Queen Caroline, should open this anniversary concert.

Choirs have been the musical combination perhaps hardest hit by the covid virus over the last three years. Canberra’s chorister numbers have been more than halved in virtually all choirs and re-growth is only now slowly on the uptake. “Zadok” is normally performed with a choir of 200 or so singers plus a full orchestra – quite incredible forces with a resultant massive sound. Thanks to the virus the current choir strength is just a quarter of that size so, despite well disciplined and dynamically controlled playing from the still complete orchestra, voices were understandably somewhat overwhelmed.

Not so in “Songs from the High Country”, a work commissioned by the choir especially for this concert. Written by talented Canberra composer Michael Dooley this work is a musical portrayal of natural landscapes around Canberra and the Snowy Mountains and an interpretation of how getting “out in the bush” brings peace and solitude. The opening “Dawn Chorus” set the scene perfectly with flute, oboe and strings creating a blissful dawn picture, brass imitating bush creatures and the choir singing such haunting words as: “Beneath the sky’s stained glass windows the avian superstars perform”.

A magical atmosphere was captured with glockenspiel raindrops in “Early Morning Rain” then a peaceful and tranquil oboe in “Besides Still Waters”. Pulsating voices and instruments signified “Cascades”, it was easy to envisage eucalypts as “Sentinels” then a broad and pastoral orchestral backing to the choir singing of gullies, valleys and hills in the “Outcrop” finale. This work is a fine addition to Australian choral repertoire, which it is hoped is afforded many performance opportunities in coming years.

The second of Handel’s coronation anthems, “Let Thy Hand be Strengthened” was a touch heavy and ponderous and lacked vocal power and projection, but the final anthem “My Heart is Inditing” was better balanced with greater surety and confidence.

The second commissioned work was “Attune”, written by Sydney-based composer Ella Macens in collaboration with Canberra poet Sarah Rice. The piece reflects on the themes of renewal, reconnection and togetherness and is an ode to the “parts” of the choir that  join together to create the “whole”. At times, it was difficult to discern the words but the text was provided in the program, which was appreciated. The soprano “part” sang: “Flying high in a shining winter / Along each branch a glittering of lacework frost / You catch the light” and this moving phrase was indicative of the sharing of common values contained within the text.

There were some tentative entries, but all vocal work was solid in tutti passages and the rich full sound of the choir was most evident in the unaccompanied “You are treasure in the garden”. This complex work requires further listening before gaining a more complete understanding of its grace and subtle nature but it is certainly another welcome addition to the Australian library of orchestra/choral works.

The orchestra was well led by Tim Wickham with fine playing in all sections highlighted by a wonderfully blended and balanced woodwind team.

Dan Walker provided clean, clear and decisive direction to both choir and orchestra and he brought an obvious passion and enthusiasm to his conducting.

CCS rightly deserves sincere thanks for its lengthy contribution to music in Canberra. Congratulations to all members, past and present, for a fine 70 years of sharing the joy of music making and providing musical pleasure. Long may it continue!

 


 

Petite Messe Solennelle - Canberra Choral Society & National Capital Orchestra

Petite Messe Solennelle, Canberra Choral Society. At Llewellyn Hall, Canberra June 25, 2022.

From the Review by Len Power, Canberra Critics Circle

As the stage of Llewellyn Hall filled with dozens of musicians and singers, it became apparent to the expectant audience that this performance of Gioachino Rossini’s ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’ (Little Solemn Mass) was not going to be ‘little’.

Canberra Choral Society and National Capital Orchestra with soloists Saralouise Owens, Sonia Anfiloff, Hayden Barrington, Ryan O'Donnell, conductor Louis Sharpe and chorus master Dan Walker.  Photo: Peter Hislop

Originally scored in 1863 for two pianos, harmonium and voices, the Canberra Choral Society and the National Capital Orchestra performed the fully orchestrated 1867 version of the work with orchestra, chorus and four solo singers.

Commencing with the ‘Kyrie’, the chorus gave a nicely controlled performance of this sombre first part of the work.  The dramatic start of the ‘Gloria’ which followed showed the full power of the chorus.  The sound was rich and colourful and the addition of the four soloists added a charming dimension.

‘Gratias agimus’ (We Give Thanks to Thee) was beautifully sung by Sonia Anfiloff (alto), Ryan O’Donnell (tenor) and Hayden Barrington (bass).  O’Donnell’s tenor aria ‘Domine Deus’ (O Lord God) that followed was also given a performance full of feeling.

The sublime blend of the voices of soprano, Sarahlouise Owens, and alto, Sonia Anfiloff, in “Qui tollis peccata mundi’ (Who takest away the sins of the world) was a major highlight of the ‘Gloria’ section of the work.  The conclusion of the ‘Gloria’ by the chorus, ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’ (With The Holy Spirit), was powerful and exciting.

Conductor Louis Sharpe. Photo: Peter Hislop

There were numerous other memorable moments throughout the performance.  Hayden Barrington’s rich baritone gave ‘Quoniam tu solus sanctus’ (For Thou Only Art Holy) a pleasing authority and soprano, Sarahlouise Owens, sang ‘Crusifixus’ (He was crucified) with great control and depth of feeling.

The Offertorium section was played very well by organist, James Porteous, and ‘Sanctus’ (Holy, Holy, Holy) was the major highlight of the later part of the work with soloists, chorus and orchestra blending perfectly to produce a powerful and thrilling sound.

Louis Sharpe, did an excellent job conducting this huge number of singers and musicians.  The accuracy and beauty of the singing by the chorus was a credit to Chorus Master, Dan Walker.

This major undertaking proved to be a highly memorable concert by all involved.  They fully deserved the enthusiastic and prolonged applause by the audience at the conclusion.

 


 

Petite Messe Solennelle - Canberra Choral Society & National Capital Orchestra

Pure, refreshing and simply magical

Petite Messe Solennelle, Canberra Choral Society. At Llewellyn Hall, Canberra June 25, 2022.

From the Review by Dante Costa, City News

Louis Sharpe conducting the National Capital Orchestra, Canberra Choral Society and soloists Saralouise Owens and Sonia Anfiloff.  Photo: Peter Hislop.

THE concert of the National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society, featured soprano Saralouise Owens; alto Sonia Anfiloff; tenor Ryan O’Donnell and baritone Hayden Barrington in a beautiful presentation of Gioachino Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solennelle”.

Written in Rossini’s twilight years, the composer described the piece as “the last of my sins of old age” in which he combines beautiful music with his renowned sense of comic irony.

Despite the title, there is nothing petite or solemn about this piece. The first Messe (Mass) opens with a dark, ominous sounding ostinato in the bassoon, cello and bass lines and sets up the scene for the chorus. This was played with a sense of atmospheric conviction that conveyed a nice contrast to the development of the harmony that later transitions into a major key.

The soloists sung with confidence and tender emotion which contributed to the overall grandeur and spirited nature of the performance. It was a pleasant and sonorous opening to the concert. “Gloria” began with a powerful and majestic fanfare.

This energy was maintained throughout the next movements that made the performance exciting to listen to. The lower brass added some healthy bottom-end sustenance to the sound as the woodwind and strings playfully interjected with moments of graceful melodic flourishes.

Soloists Ryan O’Donnell and Hayden Barrington. Photo: Peter Hislop

It is perhaps a little strange that Rossini did not write this movement for the end of the Messe, as its majestic nature implies some sense of finality and resolution. One may put this down to the composer’s irrefutable use of irony in his music. Whichever the case, this was by far one of the most exciting movements performed during the concert.

The “Credo” section was greatly amplified by the unity of the chorus and brass which added a nuanced depth and sprightliness to the overall performance. Although the softer sections from the strings were shy and timid to begin with, it picked up with the entry of the resplendent solo voices, which were soon accompanied by the woodwind, violins and chorus.

The “Offertoire” played by solo organ served as a welcome reprieve from the intensity of the surrounding movements. It was performed tenderly and with elegance.

The final movements of the Messe – the “Sanctus”, “O salutaris hostia” and the “Agnus Dei” – were sung with haunting charm and beauty by the chorus and the soloists. There was something about the sound that was, in its essence, so pure and refreshing. It was simply magical.

Judging by the sustained and rapturous applause, the concert was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience.

 


 

Rejoice in the Lamb - Canberra Choral Society

Rejoice in the Lamb. Canberra Choral Society directed by Dan Walker.

Rejoice in the Lamb, Canberra Choral Society. At Wesley Uniting Church, Canberra April 8, 2022.

From the Review by Jayden Lohe, City News

THE Canberra Choral Society – a Canberra-based symphonic choir turning 70 years old this year – has returned to the stage for the first time since July. In the first of four planned concerts for 2022, the more than 50-member choir presented an exciting selection of lesser-known and perhaps underrated works from the 19th and 20th century English sacred music tradition, much of it the product of the English musical renaissance occurring at the time. A full house at the Wesley Uniting Church welcomed back the choir, evidently excited to hear the sound of choral music that has been so lacking from concert halls since the onset of the pandemic.

The choir, conducted by music director Dan Walker and accompanied by organist Sam Giddy, sang passionately and brought out the contrast and character of each work. The ensemble underscored the quality of the music from the 19th to 20th century English musical renaissance, which Walker explained was spearheaded by or greatly influenced many of the composers in the program.

Organist Sam Giddy

The concert began with a joyous anthem by the 20th century composer Gerald Finzi titled “God is Gone Up”. The anthem began with an exciting organ fanfare and was followed by the joyous sound of the choir. It was a superb beginning to the concert.

... Organist Sam Giddy performed a short work for solo organ by the contemporary English composer Paul Ayres. “Fantasia 150 for Organ (Toccata for Eric)” was an exciting piece full of repetitive rhythmic patterns and colourful harmonies underneath, and Giddy delivered a commanding performance.

... Despite the significant challenges of COVID-19, the Canberra Choral Society presented an excellent first concert of 2022 that showcased the beauty of 19th and 20th century English sacred music. With 2022 being the Choral Society’s 70th birthday, it is shaping up to be an exciting year for the ensemble. [...]

Ein Deutsches Requiem - Canberra Choral Society and National Capital Orchestra

Ein Deutsches Requiem, National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society. At Llewellyn Hall, ANU, July 24, 2021

From the Review by Rob Kennedy, Limelight Magazine.

Brahms' German Requiem performed by the Canberra Choral Society and National Capital Orchestra was a real blessing during these trying times. Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem,presented by the National Capital Orchestra (NCO) under the baton of Leonard Weiss, with soprano Rachel Mink and bass Andrew Fysh, and chorus master Dan Walker leading the Canberra Choral Society (CCS), was just the blessing needed during these trying times. Performed before a large audience in the Llewellyn Hall in Canberra, this was one of the few concerts going on in Australia at the moment due to COVID lockdowns.

When first performed on 1 December, 1867 in Vienna, Ein Deutsches Requiem(A German Requiem) by Johannes Brahms was a scaled-down version of what we know today. It remains an ambitious work for a composer aged 33. Verdi was 60 when he wrote his Requiem and Fauré about 55.

The growing melody for orchestra that envelops the opening part of Ein Deutsches Requiem soon built to include the 60-strong choir. The orchestra is almost subservient to the choir throughout this work. The unique orchestration in the opening part...[...]

Masterful performance of ‘A German Requiem’

Ein Deutsches Requiem, National Capital Orchestra and Canberra Choral Society. At Llewellyn Hall, ANU, July 24, 2021.

From the Review by Clinton White, City News

Soprano Rachel Mink sings with a crystal-clear voice.

Soprano Rachel Mink.. a crystal-clear voice. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Despite its decade-long gestation, unusual construction. multiple revisions and early controversies, Johannes Brahms’ “Ein Deutsches Requiem” (“A German Requiem”) has stood the test of time and remains one of the most popular choral works in the catalogue, especially from the Romantic music period. This performance, by the National Capital Orchestra and the Canberra Choral Society, not only drew on that popularity, but respected Brahms’ pen mightily.

After a slightly shaky start, in which the horns and lower strings struggled to find the right balance and volume (it was pianissimo – or very soft), the whole ensemble soon settled into a masterful performance under the direction of conductor, Leonard Weiss.

... Chorus master, Dan Walker, had prepared the choir superbly, achieving lovely tone and balance and silky-smooth dynamics. The 4th movement chorus, “How lovely are your dwellings” stood out for its beautiful, flowing lyricism.

... “A German Requiem” is a quite long work – almost an hour – but this performance held its audience in a state of bliss from beginning to end. Its excellence was duly rewarded with long and sustained applause. [...]