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Hark, the Canberra Choral Society sings

Canberra Choral Society performs “Hodie Christus Natus Est”. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / “Hodie Christus Natus Est”, Canberra Choral Society. At Wesley Music Centre, December 10. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD

THIS is, of course, the season of end-of-year/Christmas concerts and the Canberra Choral Society’s contribution was an entertaining and varied concert of mostly Christmas themed material. 

The concert opened with the choir entering the church from the back, humming and then singing a processional carol, which started off very simply and added complexity as it went along. 

Two 16th century works, from William Byrd and Dutch composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, accompanied on the organ by Anthony Smith followed this to complete the first section of the concert.

The choir rearranged themselves so the sections of singers were mixed up, rather than the sopranos, altos, tenors and basses grouped together. Musical director Dan Walker described this as “character building” for the choir as the singers did not have the reassurance of the person standing next to them singing the same line. 

What it did produce was the most interesting group of songs in the concert, starting with an arrangement by Walker of an Appalachian hymn before a motet by the 19th century German composer Josef Rienberger where the voices were very nicely balanced. 

The highlight of the concert was the setting of a medieval text, “O magnum mysterium” by the American composer Morten Lauridsen, which evolved into some fascinating passing chords of mysterious harmonies. 

After another 19th century motet, this time by Anton Bruckner, the choir reverted to the usual SATB formation for an anthem by the English writer Herbert Howells from 1949 followed by four carols and a pleasantly melodic Christmas song by Canberra composer Sally Greenaway originally written for a children’s choir and sung by the sopranos and altos alone.

The concert concluded with the audience invited to sing along with two standard carols, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “O Come all ye Faithful”. 

These were rather a delight to sing with the organ playing of Anthony Smith lifting the rhythm of the carols as a contrast to childhood memories of the dirge-like accompaniment of an elder church organist.

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