Margaret’s musings #1
SWOONS Concert PERTH SYMPHONIC CHORUS
Sunday, 12th August 2:30PM
Christ Church Grammar School Chapel, Claremont
PSC’s forthcoming concert is filled with special music and a beautiful balance of traditional music, exquisite new music and well loved popular jazz favourites such as Mack the Knife.
Having just emerged from an outstandingly successful performance of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony in the Perth Concert Hall, the chorus is turning its attention to the more intimate output of the choral repertoire. Slipping from one style into another at such short notice takes some doing but I’m proud to say the group is relishing the challenges of the Swoons programme, even though in their heart of hearts some are still mourning the completion of such a grand work as Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony.
The most known of the Classical items are excerpts from Fauré’s Requiem and Mozart’s Requiem. The Fauré numbers include the well loved Pie Jesu and the transcedental In paradisum that closes the work. No composer can match Fauré’s vocal transparency or his breath taking use of musical serenity. Mozart’s Lacrimosa is especially curious in that Mozart only left a few rough sketches of this movement before he died, requiring a colleague to complete it, most possibly Süssmayr, a composer made famous in our era by the hugely popular film Amadeus. The curious element of this story is that the Lacrimosa is the most popular movement from his requiem in spite of his only partial involvement in its composition. Over the decades since Mozart’s death, many other composers and scholars have made their own completions of this work but none have really emerged triumphant over Süssmayr’s version . It is, however, a wonderful exercise in surprise and amazement to hear these two versions side by side, which we intend to do for you. For most listeners it lays bare the aspects of the work that are truly Mozart’s and which are not. Inevitably most of us prefer the one we know, but is that proof of its excellence or our comfort with familiarity?
Similar to this approach are the two versions of James Agee’s poem Sure on this Shining Night that we’ll be singing. The first is the American composer Samuel Barber’s arrangement, made famous all over the world for its serene beauty and its intertwining lines resembling varying shadows of nocturnal light and tranquility. That Los Angeles composer Morten Lauridsen should have the audacity to set the same text, also for four part choir with minimal piano accompaniment, shows the security and maturity in his writing that he’d gained in his near retirement years. Often writing from his rather primitive island shack just off the coast of Washington State, he would be intimately familiar with the purity of night light that nature has given us, one that can only be experienced if we escape from the hurly burly and artificial light of urban living. Both works capture a meditative mood with exquisite and engaging melodies that lead you steadily forward in anticipation of the next musical turn of phrase; their skilful use of the human voice and its unique expressiveness far outshines anything instrumental compositions can achieve. In a way Lauridsen’s work captures the nocturnal atmosphere a little more beautifully, its simple harmonies being coloured by gentle chromaticisms that suggest the mystery of the night.
Continuing with the nocturnal theme is Ešenvald’s unaccompanied choral work for 12 part choir and 6 tuned wineglasses. Why the wineglasses one may ask? Nothing else quite achieves the magic of a crystal glass gently made to sing by a finger slowly moving around its rim, a trick all of us have tried in the days when dishes were hand dried and the best crystal came out for the Sunday roast. Ešenvald, a contemporary Latvian composer, successfully specialising in choral music and being quickly embraced by ensembles around the world, has set Sara Reasdale’s poem about the transformation of an ugly scene, in this case, factories by the sea, into a beautiful spectacle as the new moon slowly rises and colours the scene with its gentle golden light. The work very successfully captures your visual imagination and engagement via the changing colours he creates.
After a delicious champagne interval the choir moves into a more light hearted approach to music making. Two of our delightful sopranos will approach classical music making with humour as they perform Rossini’s well known Cat Duet. That one of those sopranos is a specialised feline vet who understands cats’ language and behaviours more than any of us will surely add to your amusement.
Following this we will continue our light hearted vein by singing a few of the well known jazz favourites with piano and drum kit. You will have your toes tapping and your romantic memories awakened by some of the great favourites like Jack the Knife, I Got Plenty of Nuttin’, I Got Rhythm, Someone to Watch Over Me, and so on. The music of this era confirms Duke Ellington’s comment that there are not traditional and modern divisions in music; there are only two types of music: good or bad.
This will be a most pleasant afternoon, as the music transforms you into a delightfully relaxed and aesthetically sensitive mood while you enjoy the spectacular view of the river from Christ Church Grammar School’s Chapel. What more could you want on a Sunday afternoon?
Dr Margaret Pride O.A.M