In notable quiet moments, pleasant tones and blends were to be heard, as well as a better clarity to the various lines of music.
Image by Keith Saunders Photography.
'Tis that time of year, when the choral enthusiasts gather for the annual ChorusOz event, courtesy of the Sydney Philharmonia Choir. In what must have been one of the most well-spoken introductions to a piece/concept that I have heard of late, Artistic Director and conductor Brett Weymark took to the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall stage to explain the production process behind the performance. Members of the public, you see, had come together from all corners of the globe (England, America, Sydney, and some more exotic places) to join in a spirit of goodwill and communal harmony and fulfil their choral dreams of singing at the Opera House. Last year, we, the audience, were asked to join in with the choir for one piece with the knowledge that our unified voices would be broadcast around the world; this ChorusOz package, then, would be the premium experience for the true fans.
Weymark explained that the choir had met for the first time on the Saturday for their sectional rehearsals, with a full rehearsal sans orchestra on the Sunday morning. The wonderful Sydney Philharmonia orchestra was added at 1.30pm, before the concert proper joined at 5pm. So, then, the achievement is all the more remarkable for this corralling of the choir, spanning the back and sides of the Concert Hall. All in their ChorusOz T-shirts, they were both an impressive and genial presence. There was, of course, the usual problems with a chorus of such a size - a bit of fuzziness in the texture, etc, but the scale, too, can be a wonderful camouflage of individual defects, and so it works both ways.
It was an unusual concert for ChorusOz, we were informed, as instead of one large piece like we would usually hear, we instead got two smaller - though no less epic - works. They were also a tad more modern than the usual fare - which is a good thing, if only because it is a change. We began with John Rutter's ‘Gloria’, a rather uplifting and enlivening piece of twenty five minutes or so, with plenty of praise-be moments of mass exultation. Just the scale, sometimes, can send a tingle down the spine (it's something about the unification of humanity for the brief moment, I think) but there was more to it than a mass of forces.
Maurice Durufle's ‘Requiem’ was the second and final piece, and the larger work for the evening (coming in at around 45 minutes or so). For this we had two lovely soloists: mezzo-soprano Jane Moffat and baritone Simon Lobelson. Moffat shone particularly in the Agnus Dei, with a weighty timbre and a soaring tone, while the baritone was suitably forthcoming in his solos, if a little underwhelming in his mostly successful efforts to cut through the orchestra.
David Drury, that eternal organist, was again a presence on the huge Concert Hall organ, up there with the musical gods as he had been in the Rutter. What marked the performance of both of these pieces - apart from the size of the forces at play - was the wonderful contrast that Weymark managed to strike between the chorus and orchestra. Sometimes concerts such as these can end up as mere orchestral bores between loud and exciting choral moments, but here each was complemented extremely well. Notable, too, were the quieter moments (if such a large choir can be thought of as ‘quiet’), where some quite pleasant tones and blends were to be heard, as well as a better clarity to the various lines of music. All in all, a refreshing and energising entry in the ChorusOz series.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Sydney Philharmonia Choir, ChorusOz Choir, Sydney Philharmonia Orchestra
Conductor: Brett Weymark
Mezzo-Soprano: Jade Moffat
Baritone: Simon Lobelson
Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House