IT was standing room only at Belconnen Arts Centre on the weekend when a huge crowd astonished the organisers by packing in for a unique concert by the University of Canberra Chorale.
Now directed and conducted by former head of voice at the ANU School of Music, Alan Hicks, this choir has come ahead in leaps and bounds in the past year, adding lustre to the University’s burgeoning music program.
Hicks is obviously a hard taskmaster, as this unauditioned chorale performed with few if any hitches, perfect balance and evident joy in their performance.
Songs of peace and war – that seems to cover just about everything – but it was The Great War that Hicks had in mind, and he freely admitted it had been inspired by the experiences he and his mezzosoprano wife Christina Wilson had just enjoyed at Christopher Latham’s Canberra International Music Festival, which also focused on that war.
The first half of the program gave more of the nod to war that piece, although the afternoon opened with a lighthearted rendition of Purcell’s “In these delightful, pleasant groves.”
A standout in this half was baritone Rohan Thatcher’s sweet and poignant rendition of songs by John Ireland and George Butterworth, the gentle simplicity of which was supported by the full chorale.
As well, Wilson gave us a satirical rendition of “La Chanson de Craonne” a sardonic World War I song banned by French authorities until the 1970s because of its comments on how war eats up common people.
The second half of the program was entirely occupied by the rarely-performed “Eternal Source of Light Divine” by Handel, the ode to the birthday of the English Queen Anne that helped secure the great composer a British stipend.
While this worked a full scope to all the soloists, it was introduced by countertenor David Yardley, who did justice to Handel’s complex composition, although at times overwhelmed by Alec Alex Ross’s fine trumpet.
The other soloists, mezzosoprano Wilson, soprano Jessica Harper and baritone Thatcher joined to give life life to this unusual work, with hints of sorrow in the midst of praise.
The best part of all in “Eternal Source of Light Divine” was the full-bodied, exuberant participation of a chorale we can expect to see much more of at centre stage.