9 June 2012

UC Bach

This was a combination I jumped at: UC Chorale and JS Bach. Everyone loves Bach; enough said. But the UC (University of Canberra) College of Music has intrigued me since I was singing in a few local choirs a few years back and heard something of them. The website suggests training and performance with a strong community orientation that caters for all levels. Some performing groups are auditioned, others not, but they perform significant works. This performance was of two Bach Cantatas (BWV105, BWV39) and the G Major mass (BWV236) by the UC Chorale. It’s an unauditioned choir, has a strong training component and it performs at least two major performances each year.

The works required a chamber orchestra with choir and solo singers. The soloists had considerable training: these singers were not just off the street. The instrumentalists were paid, so professional. I recognised a few faces from the ANU School of Music and this was no surprise. The choir was 38 voices: surprisingly strong on sopranos and weak on tenors and basses. Unfortunate but not uncommon. The chamber orchestra was interesting, with a few strings (2 x violin, cello, bass) and continuo keys, but I found the other members interesting: bassoon, 2 x oboe, occasional trumpet, 2 x recorders. It made for an interesting sound that was obviously pre-modern and may be standard for the period. Certainly the square baroque lines of crotchets and quavers were true to style - lively and dancing, but with its own dignified, stilted formality – sometimes moving with the voices, sometimes working lines at counterpoint, but always attractive and reasoned. I say nothing by admiring the master. Bassist Justin seemed a key to all this – strongly present and steady and seemingly the loudest in this space. Maybe it was the space, but I found the choral vocal parts not too well defined, but what bliss when they opened up! Choirs are like that. The arias and recicatives made up the middle parts of each work, with choral passages at start and finish, and they were lovely and personal rather than outspoken and exciting. I particularly enjoyed one duet of sopranos that had voices playing against each other. But I felt for the singers (was it soprano Misako and bass Rohan?) who had those caddish baroque semiquaver lines to sing. It just looked and sounded so difficult. And tenor Dominic had some notes that reached like spires to the Heavens in his aria during the Mass. But I enjoyed it immensely. It’s not professional, but it’s a wonderfully capable choir. It’s a pleasure to me that a community group (admittedly with some perfectly well-trained soloists and professional instrumentalists) can do justice to these major works. I’ll be looking out for more.

The UC Chorale performed two Bach cantatas, BWV105 and BWV39 and the Mass in G major BWV236. It was led by Andrew Koll (conductor) with concert master Timothy Wickham (violin) and soloists Felicity Moran (soprano), Misako Piper (soprano), Sarahlouise Owens (soprano), Dominic Popperwell (tenor) and Mark Popperwell (tenor) and Rohan Thatcher (bass).


Michael Mills said...

If you missed last Thursday evening's performance, do not despair. There will a second performance this coming Monday 11/6 at 3:00 PM.

Stuart Ferguson said...

Interesting comment "Bassist Justin seemed a key to all this" - I'd say the conducting of Andrew Koll was the key, not to mention the training of the choir, which the blogger mentions, and Koll's incredible understanding of Bach's music and its performance. It'll be interesting to see how the same choir performs in September when we're told it'll be singing the Faure Requiem, which is an altogether different musical language from Bach's!