Jazz / “Aftermath”, Alex Stuart Quintet. At The Street Theatre, October 20. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE
STARTING life as the UC Chorale, the Canberra Community Chorale, under conductor AJ America, has morphed into a medium-sized choir of non-auditioned singers, tackling works that challenge and stretch. This quite varied concert did just that, and the choir largely met the challenge.
The program, mainly by British composers, began somewhat tentatively with Henry Purcell’s “Rejoice in the Lord Alway”. Finely-understated organ accompaniment by Jonathan Lee gave the choir good foundation for the stately hymn.
Then the program retreated 150 years or so to the plainchant of John Taverner – his “Audivi Vocem de Caelo” – and a motet setting of “Ave Verum Corpus” by William Byrd. Both works were sung A capella and to quite good effect. A few more sopranos would provide the predominantly lower-register choir with a better balance overall and give it more of the top-end brilliance these pieces demand.
Giving the choir a rest, Jonathan Lee featured Wesley’s very fine pipe organ in two movements from “Laudate Dominum”, a suite for organ by the British contemporary organist and composer, Peter Hurford. Lee proved that pipe organs don’t need to be played at full pelt, showing lovely sensitivity, and bringing out some of the excellent solo stops, particularly in “Meditation”.
Returning to the platform, the Canberra Community Chorale presented the major work on the program, Benjamin Britten’s cantata, “Rejoice in the Lamb”. It’s based on a rather peculiar poem, “Jubilate Agno”, by Christopher Smart, written while he was in an asylum.
The four soloists were drawn from the choir, and, although none has a powerful operatic voice, all acquitted their tasks admirably, especially given the often very abstract organ accompaniment and the non-melodic lines for the lyrics. The choir was confident in the choruses, concluding the work not with a flourish, but with a slow and quite beautiful “Hallelujah from the heart of God”.
A piano solo was next, this time from the choir’s accompanist, Lucus Allerton. Although played on an upright piano, Allerton gave an excellent account of Franz Liszt’s “Paraphrase de concert”, based on “God Save the Queen”. The work is a set of variations on the famous hymn tune, building into a virtuosic frenzy, complete with double-octave contrary motion chromatic scales. He played it with confidence and energy aplenty. It would be a treat to hear Allerton play this work, using the full power of a grand piano.
The choir, with organ accompaniment, concluded the concert with a fine performance of Britten’s “Jubilate Deo”, a work commissioned by Prince Philip in 1961. It starts and finishes exuberantly, with a more reflective middle section, which the singers embraced nicely, with much sensitivity. It was a satisfying end to an interesting program.