Sing On Report – Beethoven’s Joseph II Cantata and Mass in C

The Choir’s second Great Hall concert for 2018 comprised two rarely performed works by one of the most admired and popular composers of all, Ludwig van Beethoven.

In the first half of the program, Christopher Bowen led us in the little-known, early Cantata on the Death of the Emperor Joseph the Second, which the choir last performed in May 2006, probably the Australian premiere. The major work presented was the Mass in C Op. 86, composed in Beethoven’s maturity during his Vienna years.

A fine quartet of soloists performed with the choir: Anita Kyle (soprano), who has appeared with SUGC on a number of occasions; Agnes Sarkis (alto), winner of the Choir’s Joan Carden Award in 2012; Nicholas Jones (tenor), making his debut with us and: Simon Lobelson (bass), whose career is developing successfully here and overseas. Simon recently appeared in the principal role in Opera Australia’s production of Metamorphosis, Brian Howard’s setting of Franz Kafka’s famous story.

The excellent orchestra was led by Alastair Duff-Forbes and included a number of fine musicians who regularly perform with us, such as John Cran (bassoon), Deborah de Graaff (clarinet), Duncan Thorpe (oboe), Graham Nicholls and Tina Brain (horns), (Tina is the niece of Dennis Brain, the most famous horn player in history), Melanie McLoughlin and David Pye (trumpets), Inge Courtney-Haentjes and Dominique Guerbois (violins), John Benz (cello), Paul Laszlo and Steve Machamer (timpani). Once again, the skill and professionalism of these players and the relationship that Christopher Bowen has built up with them over the years were important in giving choristers and audience alike a memorable musical experience.

The sizeable audience comfortably filled the Great Hal on a sunny winter’s afternoon. Our patron Professor, Dame Marie Bashir, for whom it is always inspiring to perform, was present and enthused about the performance at the post-concert reception. It was a pleasure also to see a number of retired Grads choristers present at the performance.

Of the music, your correspondent was struck, as was Brahms 150 years before him, by the foreshadowing of Beethoven’s later style in the Cantate. But the power and mastery of the Mass in C was the real revelation. It is extraordinary that this great work is so under-rated. It is telling that legendary bassoonist, John Cran, was playing it for the first time in a professional career of some 70 years: equally telling is that Christoph Kaufmann, our very experienced German tenor, was also performing it for the first time. The work has perhaps been sacrificed to the egotism of great conductors, who have preferred the grandiosity of the Missa Solemnis to its more modest predecessor. The Mass in C is in no way inferior to the later work, which has so overshadowed it in the choral repertoire.

John Bowan

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