Sydney Chamber Choir, NSW Public Schools Senior Singers
Wei Jiang, Megan Cronin, Belinda Montgomery – sopranos/ Miguel Iglesias – tenor/ Alexander Knight – baritone
Splash Percussion/ Chris Cartner and Katherine Day – pianos
Richard Gill – conductor
Saturday, 19 March, 2016
City Recital Hall, Sydney
In recent years the reach of the Sydney Chamber Choir’s annual concert series has become increasingly ambitious. Having earlier in its history tended to perform in smaller venues it has lately begun to give at least one concert each year in the City Recital Hall and, in 2016, all three of its regular concerts will be at the Angel Place venue.
For its first outing of the year Carl Orff’s perennial favourite Carmina Burana was the guarantor of audience interest, and in this respect it was cleverly paired with a work many listeners would likely not have otherwise encountered: the fourteenth-century Messe de Notre Dame by Guillaume de Machaut. In keeping with the explicit mathematical fascinations of composers at that time, the work features some fantastically intricate rhythms, but the choir’s interpretation was light and precise throughout.
Interpolated into, and responding to the Mass, were short Marian motets by three young Sydney composers. The first piece, by Michael Paton, was for three male voices; the second, a sinuous setting for two female voices, was by Olivia Swift. The last – by Josephine Gibson, a member of the choir – was a single line of deceptive simplicity and great interest, sung by the entire ensemble.
In the second half of the concert, the Sydney Chamber Choir was joined by a youth choir, baritone soloist, two pianists and percussionists. The range of Carmina Burana’s orchestral colour is lessened somewhat in this instrumentally ‘lighter’ version but, in their favour, these forces were a good match for both the size of the venue and for the choir. Their combined performance was disciplined and exciting: the enlarged choir was very technically tight; the tenor and three soprano soloists, drawn from its ranks, an indication of Sydney Chamber Choir’s musical depth. Baritone Alexander Knight was hugely engaging as he revelled in the drama of his various roles.
Given his long history in music education, Richard Gill’s choice of the NSW Public Schools Senior Singers and University of Sydney ensemble Splash Percussion for this concert was doubtless quite deliberate. Just prior to the performance of Carmina Burana Gill commented from the stage that his inclusion of the schools’ choir was partially to demonstrate that one only need be ‘warm and vertical’ to sing, that performance is ‘not just for the gifted’. While such democratic intent is to be applauded – in an age of specialisation and professionalisation music is, for most people, a passive rather than active interest – these statements are, of course, not entirely true. For any of the singers (or instrumentalists, for that matter) to have simply been ‘present’ would have been an injustice to the repertoire; instead, there was rather more of the ‘gifted’ on display in this very varied evening of music-making.
Michelle Imison likes to sing and to talk, write about and organise choral music. While studying at the University of Sydney she sang with both the Sydney University Musical and Madrigal Societies and, with these two groups, helped to plan concerts, stage productions and festivals. She has also previously had the opportunity to take part in Tallis Scholars Summer Schools in Australia, the US and the UK. When not now travelling the world in her career as an international development consultant, she finds an important part of her grounding in Sydney as a member of (and publicity officer for) the Choir of Christ Church St Laurence at Railway Square, where she is able to give free rein to her interest in early music.