Music / Canberra Choral Society & National Capital Orchestra. At Llewellyn Hall, April 13. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.
“BEHOLD, the sea itself”, Walt Whitman wrote in his poem “Song of the Exposition”. Ralph Vaughan Williams set part of this poem to his monumental music in his “Sea Symphony”.
Conductor Leonard Weiss led the orchestra and choir along with soloists Chloe Lankshear, soprano and David Greco, baritone. Dan Walker was the chorus master.
The softest of openings for the Australian premiere of the English-born Australian composer Christopher Gordon’s music for the mini-series, “On the Beach”, guides what was to come in this eclectic work. This scaled-down version that in full goes for 90 minutes opened with solo soprano and muted strings. From jazz to sweeping strings and then full choir, there are a lot of subtleties and colour in this work.
While some in the string section were not hitting all the right notes, they warmed up after a while. The extended quietness proved to be a daring aspect for a concert work. The sad and solitary sound of the music fitted perfectly the style for an end of the world theme that Nevil Shute wrote about in his post-apocalyptic novel of 1957 “On the Beach”.
The magic of music is still best experienced live in concerts. When a large orchestra is combined with a full choir, it can be overwhelming, especially in the beginning section of the “Sea Symphony” by Vaughan Williams. This has perhaps the greatest opening three minutes of any symphony, and it was his first, plus it’s the longest of his nine symphonies.
When the choir came in after the opening brass blasts heralding something momentous, the force of their combined voices knocked the audience back in their seats. When the full orchestra joined in moments later and the cymbals crashed, it was as powerful as a pounding sea storm.
Bringing together the forces to perform such a titanic symphony is not easy. It takes a cool, clear head and passion for what you do. But much more than that it requires the organisational skills and knowledge of an army commander while being a teacher and guiding people to help produce their best. Conductor Leonard Weiss has all these skills.
David Greco’s dynamic baritone voice was most suited to this piece. A standout voice is needed as there’s a lot of action and volume from the orchestra, and Greco was just right for this part. Soprano Chloe Lankshear who sings with the Luminescence Chamber Singers flies under the radar a bit, but not tonight. She shone as her voice soared above everyone else in parts.
As chorus master, Dan Walker has done a superb job of tying all the voices together to bring off an amazing experience. The choir were on song for the whole night.
The colour from the percussion is quite outstanding in the “Sea Symphony”. When the final slow pianissimo notes on the celli died away at the end of this massive symphony, the warmth in this piece stays with the listener. This is music that can rival any symphony and it was well played in this concert of colour and character.