The Choir’s August Great Hall concert for 2016 presented a program of two religious works from eighteenth century Germany: the Missa No.9 in D by the little-known Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729) and the Magnificat by the impressive but difficult to classify Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), of whom Brett Dean has made the inspired comment that ‘he would be much better known if he had a different surname’. The Magnificat was not entirely new to us but Heinichen and his music were. Emanuel’s fast and florid fugal writing proved a great challenge to us, leading Christopher Bowen to say, on several occasions, that Baroque music was not suitable for a large choir like Grads.
The Choir’s very satisfying recent record of engaging excellent soloists for our performances was maintained in spades on this occasion, with the participation of an outstanding solo quartet, all of whom had sung with us before. Anita Kyle (soprano), who sang in Handel’s Israel in Egypt with us in December 2015. Ashlyn Tymms (alto), winner of our 2015 Joan Carden Award (JCA), who had sung in our performance of Dvorak’s Stabat Mater in May of that year; Ashlyn was back briefly in Australia from her studies at the Royal College of Music in London – she was delighted to be with the Choir again and we were delighted to have her back. Richard Butler (tenor), a specialist in this repertoire, had also sung in our Israel in Egypt and had been the Evangelist in our St. John Passion of August 2013. And Simon Lobelson (bass), who is also a veteran of our Israel in Egypt and our St. John Passion, who managed to fit in our gig, while appearing in Sydney Chamber Opera’s current production run of Notes from Underground. Unlike us, they had no technical problems with the vocal demands of the music; and, collectively and individually, gave irresistible performances.
Yet again, our orchestral players were exemplary. And so it was wholly appropriate that the Choir’s President, David Moser, took advantage of the presence at the concert of our esteemed Patron, Professor the Hon.Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, to organise the presentation of the Patron’s Award to Pamela Traynor (sop), the Orchestra Manager. Pamela had been severely tested over the preceding few days by the sudden and unexpected news that the designated organist would not be able to perform. After an intensive search and negotiations, she was able to offer the gig to Ross Cobb, organist and Music Director of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, who seamlessly and skilfully took over this important role with virtually no rehearsal. We are very grateful to him, as we are to all our instrumental players. Kirsten Williams, our new Concertmaster, led for the second time and is clearly enjoying the role. The playing of the strings was very fine. In both works, Bronwen Needham, our Principal flutist, gave ravishing performances of solos for her instrument. Heinichen’s Mass makes virtuoso demands of the horns and Graham Nicholls (Principal) and Paul Stiles met these with style. Our trio of trumpeters, Leanne Sullivan (Principal), Owen Morris, the newly appointed Principal trumpet of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra who flew across from Adelaide to take part, and David Pye took the opportunities provided by this Venice-trained composer’s brilliant brass writing to shine.
Performers and audience alike were very taken by the Missa of Heinichen , whose music was a revelation to pretty well everyone – one exception to this was Christoph Kaufmann (tenor), who had suggested pairing it with CPE. Bach’s Magnificat. Christoph’s advocacy for Heinichen nicely paralleled Christopher’s enthusiasm for another Dresden court composer, Zelenka, whose Missa Dei Patris we performed in December 2013.
The audience was decent but short of a sell-out, despite David Moser’s urging on of the Choir to sell tickets. We were delighted to welcome Professor Bashir, who was very enthusiastic about the concert, and Joan Carden AO OBE, who was particularly keen to hear Ashlyn Tymms again, the current holder of the eponymous JCA. Audience members to whom I and others spoke were particularly impressed with the Heinichen and generally enjoyed the concert, including the performance of the Choir. This is no doubt a tribute to Christopher’s relentless insistence on correct muscular control and voice placement. We were perhaps a little daunted by the complexities of some of the singing demands made by these two Saxon masters, notably Emanuel’s long, nightmarishly difficult fugue on Sicut erat in Principio, which concludes the Magnificat. On the day of the concert, the omens were suddenly very positive, when some of us heard Colin Fox on ABC Classic FM’s Sunday breakfast program give a detailed, expansive plug for it. The bright, sunny day gave the lie to the generally gloomy forecasts. Professor Bashir’s warmly enthusiastic comments about Christopher, the orchestra and Choir in her remarks during the presentation to Pamela also helped to lift morale. In any event, we performed these works with great gusto and not a little skill. Final judgment will, as usual, await the recording. The Chamber Choir, with Ros Moxham once again taking some of the rehearsal load off Christopher’s shoulders, was given some of the more exposed passages to sing and did so beautifully. (One of the less salient outcomes of the concert is that, from now on, the Geelong Football Club will be known to Stephen Mills (bass) and your correspondent as the MagnifiCats).
All in all, this was a very successful venture by the Grads into unfamiliar but rewarding territory, following the exploratory journey in May into the terra incognita of von Suppé’s Requiem. It will put us in good shape to charge down the autobahn towards Handel’s Messiah and Haydn’s Die Schöpfung at the end of the year.