…which got lost in a flood of reviews last week (sorry guys).
It was a big night for Rachmaninov last Saturday. As stars of the Sydney International Piano Competition duelled over his concertos in the Opera House, St Mary’s Cathedral played host to, a more collegiate experience with his All Night Vigil (Vespers), Op. 37.
The Sydney Philharmonia Symphony Chorus, a body of over 100 amateur singers, took to their task – singing, unaccompanied, in Russian, without a break for over 50 minutes – with sustained focus and energy, producing a warm sound amplified by the vaulted heavens of St Mary’s. Much of their success was due to conductor Graham Abbott , who was a rock, his clear directions allowing them to build up great walls of sound, and helping them to resist lingering as the notes rang on. Pitch sagged here and there throughout, but was usually swiftly rectified, and while there were some suitably bone-shaking fortissimos, all sections showed admirable discipline, letting the austere but moving harmonies speak for themselves.
Jenny Duck-Chong was a throaty, dark-hued soloist in Psalm 103, while James Egglestone’s clarion tenor cut through the wintry textures of the Song of Simeon with restrained romance as the bass section dug deep into their lowest register. Overall, the performance was a significant achievement.
Before the All Night Vigil the choir gave the premiere performance of Andrew Ford’s Waiting for the Barbarians (commissioned by Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus). The text is from Constantine Cavafy’s poem of the same name, adapted by Ford. It gives voice to a crowd gathered at the forum, anticipating the arrival of an invading force with a vague sense of hope – anything to change the status quo. It is a great poem, but the performance was a noble failure. Whether it was the size of the choir, or the cathedral acoustic, or the scoring, was hard to tell, but the bold thrust of the story was lost in the telling: the barbarians jewels jangled rather than dazzled, and night fell in confusion. Hopefully the voice of the crowd will come through more clearly in future performances.