Music / “Rejoice in the Lamb”, Canberra Choral Society. At Wesley Uniting Church, April 8. Reviewed by JAYDEN LOHE
THE Canberra Choral Society – a Canberra-based symphonic choir turning 70 years old this year – has returned to the stage for the first time since July.
In the first of four planned concerts for 2022, the more than 50-member choir presented an exciting selection of lesser-known and perhaps underrated works from the 19th and 20th century English sacred music tradition, much of it the product of the English musical renaissance occurring at the time.
A full house at the Wesley Uniting Church welcomed back the choir, evidently excited to hear the sound of choral music that has been so lacking from concert halls since the onset of the pandemic.
The choir, conducted by music director Dan Walker and accompanied by organist Sam Giddy, sang passionately and brought out the contrast and character of each work. The ensemble underscored the quality of the music from the 19th to 20th century English musical renaissance, which Walker explained was spearheaded by or greatly influenced many of the composers in the program.
The concert began with a joyous anthem by the 20th century composer Gerald Finzi titled “God is Gone Up”. The anthem began with an exciting organ fanfare and was followed by the joyous sound of the choir. It was a superb beginning to the concert.
Following this were two reflective, unaccompanied works: Arthur Sullivan’s “The Long Day Closes”, a tonal work with rich harmony well conveyed by the choir; and a work entitled “A Hymne to Christ” by Imogen Holst, the daughter of Gustav Holst.
Both provided great contrast to the Finzi, although the diction in these softer works was at times slightly unclear, perhaps a result of the performance space.
The next work was an energetic rendition of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Festival Te Deum”. Williams was a composer who was greatly influenced by the English musical renaissance and was taught by one of its proponents, Hubert Parry, whose work appeared later in the program.
Organist Sam Giddy then performed a short work for solo organ by the contemporary English composer Paul Ayres. “Fantasia 150 for Organ (Toccata for Eric)” was an exciting piece full of repetitive rhythmic patterns and colourful harmonies underneath, and Giddy delivered a commanding performance.
The choir then sang a reflective and yearning setting of Psalm 42: 1-3 (“Like as the Hart Desireth the Waterbrooks”) by 20th century English composer Herbert Howells, who was also a student of Hubert Parry.
This was followed by Benjamin Britten’s cantata “Rejoice in the Lamb”. Divided into short sections, each with its own character that explored the worship of God through God’s creations, the choir and organist did well to convey each character and idea. Moreover, all four solos were excellently sung and well-projected.
The final work in the program was Hubert Parry’s choral introit “I Was Glad”, written in 1902 for the coronation of King Edward VII, with text based on verses of Psalm 122. This was perhaps the best performance in the concert and provided a joyous ending, adorned by beautiful melodic lines by the sopranos.
Despite the significant challenges of COVID-19, the Canberra Choral Society presented an excellent first concert of 2022 that showcased the beauty of 19th and 20th century English sacred music. With 2022 being the Choral Society’s 70th birthday, it is shaping up to be an exciting year for the ensemble.
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