There is a delicious irony to an orchestral concert that begins with unaccompanied choral items. Indeed the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s Mozart Requiem: 100 Voices programme was well on its way before we saw the first instruments on stage.
It was a night when voices took centre-stage, and those voices comprised school students culled from some 10 schools in and around Sydney, who made up the Australian Brandenburg Young Voices, joined by the 34-strong Australian Brandenburg Choir.
Led by guest conductor and soprano Anna Sandström, the girls and young women of the Young Voices approached the stage down the two aisles of the City Recital Hall, singing Lyn Williams’ blithesome Festive Alleluia with echoing antiphonal effect. The boys and young men of the Young Voices followed with their rendition of the Guadete from Piae Cantiones, an anonymous collection of medieval Swedish songs. The entire youth choir sang another ancient madrigal, the Salva nos, stella maris.
Intimate as it is, Sydney’s City Recital Hall offers its performers a dizzyingly high gallery which was the platform for the evening’s four soloists, soprano Amy Moore, counter-tenor Maximilian Riebl, tenor Paul Sutton and bass Alexander Knight in a crisp and witty a capella delivery of the satirical cameo Matona Mia Cara by di Lasso, a todesca (a 16th-century polyphonic song that lampoons Germans attempting to speak Italian). The elevation created a delightful resonance and the voices were beautifully blended as the sound percolated down to the audience.
The Australian Brandenburg Choir in fine form, with its distinctive alto section composed entirely of counter-tenors gave a richly textured version of Palestrina’s Alma Redemptoris Mater, conducted by Paul Dyer.
Fast forward to the 20th century for two popular anthems by Rutter – What Sweeter Music and For the Beauty of the Earth before all the voices combined with around a dozen instruments for the incomparable Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.
The Brandenburg Young Voices were impeccably trained and, judging by their glowing faces, they relished the experience. They impressed with their performance of complex part songs from memory, unerring pitch, beauty of tone and discipline.
The Young Voices despatched to bed, the Brandenburg Choir and Orchestra gathered for an awe- inspiring performance of Mozart’s Requiem K 626 with Paul Dyer conducting. From the opening bars it was evident that this was going to be a performance with a difference. Dyer set a brisk pace and he had rethought the phrasing. The Kyrie was an expression of outrage at being cheated of life, as much as a plea for mercy. This arguably diminished the impact of the more apocalyptic Dies irae and blurred some of the articulation, but the pace relaxed with the Tuba mirum and the choir trumpeted the Rex tremendae with impressive majesty. The Confutatis incorporated a dramatic contrast between the incendiary lower parts and the incredible lightness of the upper parts, followed by a throbbing, sobbing Lacrimosa. As the Requiem approached its final movements the tempo became more measured, reflecting acquiescence to the inevitable – that fate, softened by the promise of redemption in the luminous clarity of the Lux aeterna.
Each of the four soloists, was exceptional; their voices well matched to the music and to each other, soaring in the interplay of the Recordare and a glorious Benedictus.
Oh – and the orchestra? Fabulous!
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©
Mozart Requiem:100 Voices continues at the City Recital Hall on selected dates until May 11.