The Leichhardt Espresso Chorus is one of the better-known non-auditioned choirs in Sydney, led by the enthusiastic and adventurous Michelle Leonard. Before the concert she told us that doing Israel in Egypt was a ‘bit of stretch’ for the choir. Indeed in the acoustically (if not visually) appropriate venue of the Hunter Baillie Memorial Church in Annandale, the aural work was effective.
The sopranos were in top form
Like many community based choirs there were a lot of women and very few men. This is manageable when the choir is singing together, but when they are not or are singing in canon mode this disparity in numbers is manifest. It was not helped by seating the men at the back of the opposing choirs stall. In that context it was pity that tenor and basses were largely hidden behind the Presbyterian equivalent of the arras. On the other hand the sopranos were in top form, especially in the passages where they were put to the test, as Handel is apt to do. The altos, sometimes whose sound does not always match their numbers, did their job well too and produced some lovely creamy sounds as altos can.
One can be critical of some ragged entries and a little of mushiness in the canons, but the choruses (both single and double) working together produced an entirely satisfactory sound, at times matching the drama of the exodus of the Jews from Israel. Handel uses the Book of Exodus and selected psalms to great effect, and for the most part the intent of the words were captured.
Alexander Knight is a seriously good bass baritone with that elusive ‘it’
The ensemble had the advantage of a more than acceptable, and mainly young group of soloists. The soprano Michelle Ryan sang with clarity and a delicious bell-like tone. Sarah Kemeny the mezzo, produced some rich moments. Much of the solo work is carried by the tenor part. Richard Butler started a little tentatively, but sang with increasing confidence. The two basses had less to do but the two singers Alexander Knight and his more mature partner Ed Suttle demonstrated the potential of that part in relation to the chorus and the other soloists. Alexander Knight is a seriously good bass baritone. If any young singer has that elusive ‘it’, it is Alexander Knight. The baritone world is large and competitive. If young Mr Knight was a tenor he could probably name his price. He is a seriously fine singer. A modestly sized orchestra, consisting of mixture of experienced and beginning instrumentalists, underpinned the work of the chorus and the soloists. Michelle Leonard held these large and diverse forces together in her characteristically forthright manner, albeit with one or two false starts.
May choral singing continue to flower with exuberance
All in all seeing and hearing so many doing the stretching was a pleasure, quibbles at the edge not withstanding. Choral singing is really the last refuge of music making for the non-professional. It seems to be burgeoning. May it continue to flower with exuberance!