Theatre / “Australia Day”, Canberra Repertory, until 2 December. Reviewed by JOHN LOMBARD.
CANBERRA Choral Society makes a welcome return to the music scene this year under the baton of its new artistic director, Dianna Nixon.With Canberra pianist and composer Anthony Smith at the keyboard, the large ensemble joined by a group of young singers and spoken word performers from Nixon’s Wild Voices Music Theatre spread out the length of the Arboretum building’s windows, making for a fine sight with the vista of Canberra behind them.
What followed was a concert of great variety with the selections of poetry and music – for Nixon believes that the interpretation of the words is every bit as important as the musical phrasing – linked by the theme of greenery, whether it be in the form of trees, gardening, farming, or the winds that sometimes assail the verdure.
This looked like fresh direction for the Choral Society, with an emphasis on light clearly articulated and sometimes whimsical or sardonic poem-songs.
The late afternoon concert began with former Canberra composer Daniel Brinsmead’s setting to the famous “trees” poem by Joyce Kilmer. This was a simple presentation that did not give full play to the choir.
In “Ode to the North East Wind”, music by Frank Hutchens to the words by Charles Kingsley and “A Girl’s Garden”, music by Randall Thompson to words by Robert Frost, the choir showed its capacity for a lighter presentation, sung with a sense of humour.
But it was “The Blue Bird”, music by Charles Villiers Stanford to words by Mary E Coleridge that showed rich and full-bodied sound that is undoubtedly the Canberra Choral Society’s strength.There followed a performance by the aforesaid young members of Wild Voices of “The Silent Gums”, music by Stephen Leek and words by Anne Williams and the Eltham East Primary School Choir. Unfortunately in the huge reverberant spaces of the Arboretum building, little of this was audible. The same may be said of solo interludes like Handel’s “Ombra Mai Fu” and the spoken word introductions to each number by the young performers, little of which could be heard.
Here Nixon’s laudable aim of involving cross-generational performers fell afoul of acoustics.
The most substantial section of the concert came in the five-part piece, “In Windsor Forest”, music from the opera “Sir John in Love” by Ralph Vaughan Williams with words by Shakespeare and others.
In the first section beginning with the famous words “Sigh more ladies, sigh no more”, we heard the Canberra Choral Society in full polyphony, a delight to the ears.
A vigorous masculine note was struck in the male drinking song that followed, while the light and mischievous tone heard in the first half was struck in “Falstaff and the Fairies”. In the overlapping phrasing of the fourth section “Wedding chorus”, the choir was not heard to such good effect, but the strong articulation returned in the epilogue.
The concert ended on a sober note with “Make our garden grow”, music by Leonard Bernstein and words by Richard Wilbur.