On Sunday, 5 May, the Choir presented its first subscription concert of the 2019 season, the Australian premiere of the Messe des Morts (Requiem) of the little-known François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829).
The initiative for the choice of this work came from the Choir’s Immediate Past President, Jackie Rotenstein (sop), who had heard and been impressed by it during researches into less well-known composers. This turned out to be an inspired choice, as Christopher Bowen, the choristers and, importantly, the Great Hall audience were all much taken by Gossec’s music, despite never having heard it before and in many cases not having heard the composer’s name at all.
Throughout, Gossec conveys a strong impression of knowing what he wants to do and a sure-footed sense of how to do it. He is technically accomplished and produces some brilliant fugues that stretch the capacity of the Choir. The influence of the Mannheim school makes itself felt in some of the soprano arias, which could almost be by Mozart. Gossec’s love of spectacular sound effects is strongly on show, not least in the dramatic timpani solo, which opens the work, and later in the Berlioz-like off-stage wind band, which comes into its own in the Tuba Mirum.
An additional pleasure the Choir had from doing the work was the experience of using the French pronunciation of Latin (le Latin Gallican), as taught to us by our resident French linguist, Annette Lemercier (sop). An audience member told me that she could identify some of the sounds of this in the performance, so Annette’s work paid off..
An excellent quartet of soloists joined us for the concert – Anita Kyle (soprano), Keara Donohoe (alto), Matthew Reardon (tenor) and Christopher Richardson (baritone) – and sang outstandingly. The smallish orchestra was led by Alastair Duff Forbes as Concertmaster and included such regular players of ours as Heather Burnley and Inge Courtney- Haentjes (violin), Michelle Urquhart (viola), John Benz (cello), Paul Laszlo (double bass), Bronwen Needham (flute), the legendary John Cran (bassoon), Graham Nichols (horn), Melanie McLoughlin and David Pye (trumpet), Michael Wyborn (trombone) and Steve Machamer (timpani), who went to town on the opening solo mentioned above.
Perhaps put off by the unpredictable weather, the Great Hall audience was down in numbers. but included our admired Patron, Professor the Hon. Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, whose support for and interest in the Choir are so appreciated, Joan Carden AO OBE, who continues to give her name and time to the Joan Carden Award, the singing competition organized by the Choir, and distinguished baritone, Geoffrey Chard AM, who has acted as a judge of the Award on a number of occasions. New President, Ken Dray, made a short, warm welcoming speech before the start of the work and hosted a post-concert reception in the University Senate Room for VIPs, soloists etc.
The audience loved Gossec’s Requiem and, from the risers, one could feel their attention and interest gripped to the end. The applause was generous and sustained and the comments afterwards enthusiastic. There was a feeling that this composer and work represent a real find. We will await with interest the results of Greg Ghavalas’s recording, to see how far we might be able to spread the results of our find. At all events, we can feel gratified that our 2019 concert season has kicked off on a very positive note.