10 December 2012

Christmas as in schooner

Christmas is a time for choral concerts (any other time, too). This year’s was SCUNA with a program called Celestial harmonies : music for contemplation and celebration.

There were some strange but intriguing associations in this concert. Three versions of O magnum Mysterium, from de Victoria (~1600), de Cristo (~1600) and Lauriden (1974). There were several Schubert songs, one by a small sub-choir of women (SSAA), another by soprano accompanied by clarinet and piano. Then Rachmaninoff. The Vespers (or better, All night vigil Op.39, no.1-7) was performed by the full choir with organ and soprano voice. The Vespers were choral and predictable, but the two piano pieces, splitting each set into two parts, was an unexpected bit of programming. They were Prelude in D flat major and Etude-Tableau in C minor. Just the thing to challenge the jaded Christmas carol ear: not particularly celestial but riveting and an awakener. Then a few final tunes to end a generous concert, an encore and a rendition of Laudate nomen Domini (Christopher Tye, ~1550), apparently the theme song of SCUNA. I found the choir gelled better with some simpler harmonies. These were relatively complex charts: not just SATB, but SSAATTBBP, where my P is Basso Profundo (apparently down to D). I fancied the extremes of sopranos and basso profundo when they clearly rang out. I enjoyed the interplay of voices passing through harmonies. I really enjoyed the firm, confident solo soprano of Sarahlouise Owens in combination with choir for the Vespers and clarinet and piano for a Schubert. Despite its odd presence and slightly wonky upright, I relished Anthony Smith playing Rachmaninoff. This was a turn-of-the-century Russian romantic blast of huge handfulls of notes. It’s a surprise to see Anthony outside his continuo, subsidiary role for a change. The whole was led by Andrew Kroll with casual seriousness.

Finally, I enjoyed visiting St Andrew’s, which I pass by regularly. I expect this is our grandest church, even in its unfinished state. Canberra has a batch of post-religious brick constructions that lack the solemnity and magnificence that’s due to churches. This one is still awaiting its dome, but it’s sandstone in a stubby Greek cross design, high and spacious, nicely detailed with quotations inscribed in Art Deco script and furnishings with swirly gothic decoration, and with a heaven-seeking tower and gargoyles. Too bad about the British desire to hang flags in churches (I only noticed one), but for 99-year old Canberra, this is magnificence. And as for that name: SCUNA as in schooner; a perfectly lame university pun. Ya gotta love it. SCUNA (ANU Choral Society) was conducted by Andrew Kroll in large mixed and small female formations, accompanied by Anthony Smith (continuo, piano) and featured Sarahlouise Owens (soprano) and Hannah Freedman-Smith (clarinet) at the Church of St Andrew, Forrest.

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