SUGC’s Christmas Concert, entitled “PoeticInspirations”, at the Verbrugghen Hall on Saturday 10thDecember 2011, was from all points of view an outstanding success.
The program encompassed two orchestral works by Debussy (“Danses Sacrée at Profane” and “Prélude à l’Après Midid’un Faune”) and choral works by Stanford (“Songs of the Fleet”, poem by Henry Newbolt) and Parry (“Jerusalem”, poem by William Blake). The main work was the World Première of “Songsof the Heart” by the Choir’s Music Director, Christopher Bowen, setting poems by Sydney University alumnus Christopher Brennan.
There were 46 musicians in the larger-than-usual orchestra,which produced a lovely rich sound to showcase the orchestral items. Celebrated harpist Owen Torr made his instrument sing in the first Debussy piece, and the rendition of the second Debussy work was enriched by the presence of two double basses and four French horns.
Christopher Bowen’s setting of the first Brennan poem,“Sweet Silence after Bells”, was performed by the 25-voice Chamber Choir, who beautifully invoked the tone of the poem. Later, the full choir of 95 voices gave a rousing rendition of “Songs of the Fleet”, with soloist Richard Mitchell. His rich baritone voice was able to shine in the quieter passages, but inevitably tended to be drowned out when the full forces of choir and orchestra came into play. Perhaps on future occasions some consideration could be given to providing voice reinforcement for soloists to provide them with a better chance to be heard.
But the high point of the night was the World Premiere of “Songs of the Heart”. This work was commissioned by the Choir and Christopher Bowen chose to dedicate his work to the Choir’s Patron, Professor Marie Bashir AC BVO, Governor of NSW and Chancellor of the University of Sydney, who was in attendance. A tastefully-bound copy of the full orchestral score was presented to the Governor before the performance, who made a heartfelt speech of thanks, with praise and encouragement for the performers. The work set six of Brennan’s poems, and prior to the performance of each movement, the words of the poem were read with great feeling by professional actor Robert Alexander.
It was the first time the Choir had performed in the Verbrugghen Hall at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and the acoustics proved to be very good. It was virtually a sell-out occasion which is always a source of satisfaction to offset the not-inconsiderable expense of mounting a performance with such large forces. Opinions were divided when assessing the difference between the Verbrugghen Hall and the Great Hall, which of course has been the spiritual home of the Choir since its inception in 1952. Everyone enjoyed the Verbrugghen Hall with its acoustics, accommodation and facilities, though many missed the atmosphere associated with the Great Hall. A significant number of both audience and performers stated that they found transport more difficult to come into the city where parking is scarce and very expensive, whereas others said it was easier to get to the city by public transport than to the University campus.
Nonetheless, everyone seemed to agree that the event was a triumph and had provided an excellent evening’s entertainment.