25 April 2014

A program for Easter and Anzac

The ANU Chamber Choir and Chamber Orchestra performed on stage at Llewellyn. I've done it before, but it's strange to join the performers on a massive stage and look out at 1330 empty seats. But nice. It's intimate, it seems acoustically quite live, boxed in by timber, and it's a decent sized space. This was a sellout, with performers and audience sitting on a flat surface, so sightlines were difficult, but so be it. There were two works on the program: Buxtehude and Haydn. Peter Tregear introduced them as selected for this Easter / Anzac week.

Firstly, Buxtehude's Membra Jesu nostri, a series of 7 cantatas each contemplating a part of Christ's dead body (feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart and head). It's a strange concept, but this is early music, pre-Enlightenment. They thought differently then, and they were in touch with death. Buxtehude composed this in 1680 but to stanzas of a mediaeval hymn from a poem of the high mediaeval period. The ANU Chamber Choir comprised about 30 performers, with some members coming out to solo. They were accompanied by a small chamber orchestra of 2 x violin (or violin and viola?), 1 x viola da gamba (sometimes 2), cello and organ. Peter Tregear conducted. The strings were using baroque bows. It was sung in Latin. The programs had Latin text with English translation. I followed the text and found it rewarding, giving the meaning and worldview, but also making the counterpoint and baroque embellishments obvious. Body of Christ; I kept thinking of that ghostly Mantenga painting, Lamentation over the Dead Christ, that resides at the Brera in Milan. This was truly another era.

The second work of the night was performed by the ANU Chamber Orchestra with conductor David Irving. This is much larger orchestra but about half the size of the CSO (two basses) with a full suite of horns and brass and woodwinds and timpani using modern instruments. This was much closer is style to our era, being early modern, early classical. Peter introduced the work as immediately post-French Revolution, but it felt light and attractive and the program quoted Haydn's pleasure at its inaugural performance: "... packed audience ... I took in this evening 4,000 guilden. One can make as much as this only in England". Music for a market but lovely none-the-less. This was Op.104, London Symphony, the last of 12 symphonies he composed for visits to London. Four movements, attractive and lively, very pleasurable, just a touch of the idyll, sometimes danceable, often grand and joyous and wonderfully pretty. Again, nicely played and delightful music.

  • Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the Mantegna
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