12 October 2014, St James King Street
Gloria – new and newer
An early Sunday evening saw a capacity crowd assemble at St James King St Sydney to hear just one hour of music—but what an hour it was! The Leichhardt Espresso Chorus with Sydney Brass were performing three contemporary works, the earliest only 40 years old, gathered together under the collective title of Gloria. Conductor of the concert was LEC’s artistic director Michelle Leonard, who adeptly controlled her forces with clarity and commitment. The superb acoustics of the church offered the ideal showcase for the selected works.
Mass of Deliverance
Kicking off proceedings was the premiere of the prolific Dan Walker’s Mass of Deliverance. This eagerly anticipated work from the now Melbourne-based composer clocks in at about 30 minutes, making it a valuable commodity for programming. For the listener there are many, many rewards.
The Kyrie has a brass introduction which builds in intensity and revealed Sydney Brass to be in top form, while the large chorus delivered beautiful harmonies leading to a thrilling climax. The Gloria, always a key moment in a choral mass, moves between many quieter, appealing passages and majestic scenes with all guns blazing in both choir and accompaniment, ending with a particularly effective Amen section. The Credo presents more opportunities for the brass and timpani to shine in forceful passages, while the higher voices have their special moments too. In this movement it was occasionally difficult to pick up the words from the back where I was seated, and it was a definite advantage to know the words of the mass. An exciting frenzy of activity from the timpani closes out the movement. A sweet and gentle start to the Sanctus leads to a building of momentum as it bursts into life in the ‘pleni sunt coeli’ section. In this movement the choir’s tenors were featured in some attractive soaring passages. The Benedictus is reflective, with unaccompanied opening and the lower women’s voices establishing a reverent mood, before the male voices add depth and solemnity, leading to a restrained ending with the vocal forces accompanied by solo trumpet. The final movement, the Agnus Dei, moves between appealing, quieter moments, a slow marching tempo, a bright, hopeful section, a mighty crescendo passage with all forces fully deployed to stirring effect and the final quiet, contemplative finish.
Commissioning new Australian choral music
Commissioning is the lifeblood of the dynamic addition to repertoire, and the Leichhardt Espresso Chorus is to be applauded for their continued commitment to contemporary Australian music. Dan Walker’s Mass of Deliverance will surely find a place in the performance repertoire of many choirs.
The mass is performed without soloists and thus presents challenges to the stamina of the choir.
A welcome breather for choir and conductor was provided by the programming of Paul Terracini’s Pange Lingua. It was the perfect interlude, with Sydney Brass’s artistic director, trumpeter Paul Goodchild, performing with characteristic clarity and attractive tone, accompanied by organ.
A slightly older Gloria
Rounding out this imaginative program was John Rutter’s Gloria. Rutter’s music is always a joy to perform and a delight to hear. The piece has three movements, with the central reflective movement flanked by exuberant, joyful outer movements. The instrumental opening is an arresting feature which grabs audience attention, which never slackens from that point. Movement I demands good high soprano voices and excellent timing and the choir obliged with meticulous delivery. This opening set the scene with commitment and joie de vivre. After a haunting ethereal organ introduction, Movement II proceeds with lower voices in slow, gentle mood before gradually building to a triumphant, joyous crescendo with all forces involved in full measure. This movement featured the only use of vocal soloists in the program, with soprano soloists soaring above the choral texture to exciting effect. In the final movement, the performers had good control of the tricky rhythms and snakepit of words that can provide a challenge, and continued to impress as they proceeded to the commanding finish of the closing minutes, which were delivered to spine-tingling effect.
A special treat
As the audience stepped outside to rejoin the real world, I overheard someone describe the concert as ‘a very special treat’. I would agree; in fact it is high on my shortlist for performance of the year. One of Australia’s major musical organisations used to have as its slogan ‘There’s nothing like being there’. This was certainly such an occasion.