20 May 2014

A German-Australian synthesis ... despite wars

I admire Chris Latham's CIMF and this was his last. Unfortunately, we had clashes and couldn't be so involved this year. Chris gathers some fascinating batches of musicians to play varied music around festival themes. It's the discovery that's most interesting about this festival - new music, composers, musicians - and it suits the educated nature of Canberra. Journalists take care here; as Jack Waterford says, there's always someone who's an expert in Canberra to provide corrections. This week was busy for us so we only managed 3 concerts (and one workshop) and they were the blockbusters: not quite the adventure of CIMF but a treat none-the-less.

The final concert was Brahms Australian Requiem. Actually, it's his German Requiem, but sung in English as it was first performed in full in Australia in 1898. This was the biggest concert of the three we attended this year, with perhaps 200 performers including choir, orchestra and two soloists. It's a grand work, classical in conception, in seven movements, deep with cellos and basses and variously mournful and recovering. The choir was big in the wet environment of the Fitters' workshop with all the voices nicely merged into one. We were up front, on the aisle but nearer the cellos and basses, and we strained to hear the violins and various woodwinds and organ, although I heard gentle harp later when the chart was sparser. It's a feeling of being involved but perhaps not the best balance. This is a great space for choirs and power and passion if less so for clarity. But what a passion and volume this work has. The two soloist, bass-baritone and soprano, were big voices. This was in English but I didn't catch more than a phrase or two, from chorus or male soloist. There was a transcript (good on CIMF!) but I chose to listen. This was a big and passionate work in a big-sounding space.

To finish was a simpler composition, a song arranged by local Calvin Bowman, To Gratiana by W Denis Browne, a composer-soldier who died in WW1. It was a fitting, simple and touching ending for the festival called The Fire and the Rose, with twin themes of the 100th anniversary of WW1 and the 75th anniversary of the start of WW2. Then some short speeches and introductions and a last post, minute of silence and reveille. Mmmm. You can't fault the music in this festival. The little we heard this year were just the big works and they were revelatory. I hope we can be more involved and more adventurous next year, under the new CIMF musical director, Roland Peelman.

Brahms German Requiem was performed in English by the Wallfisch Band, ACO2, Canberra Festival Chorus, Simone Riksman (soprano), Alexander Knight (bass-baritone) under Roland Peelman (conductor). W Denis Browne To Gratiano was arranged for voice and orchestra by Calvin Bowman (arranger), with Christopher Saunders (tenor) and the others above.

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