Sydney Chamber Choir/Muffat Collective
Great Hall, University of Sydney
6 October 2017
Written by Wendy McLeod
The Great Hall of the University of Sydney was packed out when the Sydney Chamber Choir conducted by Roland Peelman and accompanied by the Muffat Collective, presented an early music programme of love and loss which featured madrigals by Gesualdo, works by Monteverdi and a concert version of Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. The programme was curated by Richard Gill, music director of the ensemble, capitalising on the singers’ different skills and ability to breathe life into this particular genre of music, which, in his pre-concert talk, conductor Roland Peelman emphasised, was about drama created by marrying the music with the text in a way that had not happened before.
It was an evening of familiar and much-loved repertoire which the musicians performed to their usual level of excellence. The audience was transported back in time, and in turn, to Venice, Naxos and Carthage. Opening with a sacred piece, Monteverdi’s Litany of the Blessed Virgin, the choir moved on to the theme of ‘loss’, with an anthology of laments. This assemblage of works was a clever illustration of how deeply Monteverdi understood human emotion and how adept he was at using music to illustrate those emotions. Monteverdi used both text and music together to probe the complexity of the human condition and the ensemble’s finely nuanced interpretations gave full expression to this realisation.
The final offering in particular, the madrigal Lamento della Ninfa for soprano, two tenors and bass voices, was spectacularly performed, with the soprano voice taking the commentary of the nymph against the narrative of the trio of male voices.
In a worthy sequel to the music of Monteverdi and Gesualdo, Purcell’s three -act tragic opera Dido and Aeneas succeeded the first half of the evening reinforcing the innovations of the time in which composers created stories with words and music in novel ways. With some identifying accessories, as the ill-fated lovers, Belinda Montgomery as Dido and David Greco as Aeneas were simply brilliant and exuded a rare chemistry. We are indeed fortunate to enjoy the musical and dramatic gifts of a singer of the calibre of David Greco. Belinda Montgomery’s portrayal of Dido was expressive throughout, conveying an anguish that was not simply confined to her famous aria. Ed Suttie as the sailor added some welcome comic relief; the sorceress, Wei Jiang and witches were somewhat restrained, though musically impeccable.
Richard Gill’s decision to feature choral soloists was entirely appropriate given that this opera was first performed by the students of a girl’s boarding school in Chelsea (London).
The Muffat Collective, featuring guest players Anthea Cottee playing violine and baroque cello, Daniel Morris playing theorbo, Stephen Freeman playing viola and core players Matthew Greco and Rafael Font-Viera on baroque violins and Anthony Abouhamad playing the harpsichord, provided sensitive and virtuosic support to the singers.
The Sydney Chamber Choir is truly one of Sydney’s treasures.
Wendy McLeod for SoundsLikeSydney©
Wendy McLeod grew up in Sydney, in a home surrounded by music, with parents who were enthusiastic concert-goers. She spent a large part of her working life as a producer and content director at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and at ABC Classic FM. Previously Orchestra Manager for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, she herself is an avid concert-goer and music groupie – and she loves cats!