Thursday, 24 July 2014

KCCC's tour of the Antipodes

King's College Choir, Cambridge, are in the Antipodes.  They sang Monteverdi's Cantate Domino on breakfast TV this morning:

Their concerts have been reviewed here, here, here and here.  Download the program here.

You can hear their Melbourne concert here (program 2).  The choir sounds in good form, and the reviews (except for one of the two Sydney Morning Herald reviews) have been glowing.  The Sydney Morning Herald article by Clive O'Connell was concerned about a certain blandness to the program, or the performance of the various pieces thereof.  I am not convinced that those observations are borne out, but in any event I think there is a more problematic aspect to the programs - they are a bit sparse, for the price of the tickets anyway (up to about $130).  The first program at least contains a major work, the Faure Requiem.  However, even then the accompaniment is organ only.  King's could muster the orchestral forces for their latest recording of this work (and their innumerable previous recordings of the work).  In fact, I am not aware of any recordings that opt for the 'liturgical' approach of organ only.  Why, then, is this a satisfactory state of affairs for an audience charged handsomely for their tickets?  On the choir's tour of Asia last year, local orchestras were engaged.  It seems like this time an opportunity was missed to collaborate with the ACO, the ABO, or some other very fine local ensemble.  In contrast, in Cambridge earlier this year, I attended a performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion (an immense work) with full orchestra and soloists.  Top price tickets were significantly less than top price tickets for the Choir-only concerts in the Antipodes.  The choir and/or orchestra then backed up for various Easter services, and a performance of Handel's oratorio Israel in Egypt, a few days later.

Perhaps a comparison of two videos will best demonstrate my point.  I wish to stress that I am not saying that the performance with organ accompaniment will not be exceedingly beautiful.  Perhaps it could even be as beautiful as the orchestrated version.  What I am saying is that for absolutely premium tickets, to see a top choir, at a major venue such as the Sydney Opera House, the expectation is that a work like the Faure Requiem would be in one of its orchestrated versions.

Organ only:

With orchestration:

A shame, because the Antipodean concerts have been, and will continue to be, excellent in every other respect.

Missa in angustiis - Update

Xt3 - a "content driven social networking site" operated by the Trustees of the Roman Catholic Church for the Archdiocese of Sydney - has produced this video of excerpts from last Sunday's 10.30 am choral Mass at St Mary's Cathedral attended by the highest ranking members of the Parliament and the Executive of the Commonwealth and the State of NSW.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Missa in angustiis

The imposing St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney today became the focus of Australia’s attention as the nation comes to terms with the shocking aeroplane disaster in eastern Ukraine.  Many of the wretched souls aboard the flight were Australian citizens or residents, including a nun from the Society of the Sacred Heart.  Requiescant in pace.

Yesterday, it was announced that the Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbot, and the Governor-General, HE Sir Peter Cosgrove, would attend Sunday Mass at the Cathedral.  As it transpired, they were accompanied by the Governor of NSW, HE Marie Bashir, the NSW Premier, the Hon Mike Baird, the leader of the (Federal) Opposition, the Hon Bill Shorten, and a host of other politicians.  Also present were members of the Society of the Sacred Heart, girls from the Society’s convent school Kincoppal Rose Bay, and representatives of the Dutch community (the flight’s provenance was Amsterdam and the great majority of passengers were Dutch). The celebrant was the Most Rev Peter Comensoli, Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Sydney (the Archdiocese is still sede vacante).  

The Mass was the solemn choral Mass at 10.30 am, with the usual mixture of plainsong, polyphony and hymns.  The Mass setting (Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei), that of modern British composer Judith Bingham, has been described as “uncompromisingly austere” and “unsettled”, and so (unwittingly since this setting was chosen before the awful events of the last 48 hours) appropriately reflected the nation’s mood: subdued and troubled.  The Bingham Mass was juxtaposed with the familiar and comforting melodies of Credo III and the Sanctus and Agnus Dei of Mass XI (all sung in Latin), and two hymns.  The offertory motet was The Beatitudes (Albinoni arr Giazotto).  The full music list is here.  

From 11:08 of this news bulletin (available to view for 7 days) you can hear the choir singing Credo III.

And in this video you can hear the choir singing the Introit Ecce Deus adiuvat me.  

Saturday, 19 July 2014

O ineffabilis decor

Melgas, Popule Meus

Credo V - Simple plainsong is the pinnacle of liturgical art

Friday, 4 July 2014

Byrd Masses - New Recording by Westminster Cathedral Choir

A while ago I came across news that Westminster Cathedral Choir were recording the Byrd Masses.  Well, the recording is now complete and the CD will be released for sale in September.  Go to the Hyperion website to hear some samples, and I'm sure you'll conclude as I have that this is not just another recording of the Byrd Masses.  First, the definition of the recording - it is superb.  Secondly, as far as I am aware, this is the first time a Catholic choir has recorded the three Masses.  I have grown up with legendary recordings like the Willcocks King's recording from the 60s, and have plenty more of the English cathedral/college choirs (Winchester under Hill, New College under Higginbottom, Christ Church under Darlington, John's under Guest, etc) and secular groups like the Tallis Scholars and the Cardinall's Musick.  To have the Masses now committed to disc by a Catholic cathedral choir is a momentous occasion.  Thirdly - wow, the choir is in great form and the phrasing typically exquisite from Baker.  Listen to the beginning Agnus Dei of the Mass for Five Voices and bathe in the beautifully austere singing of what appear to be single voices per part (I imagine the parts are augmented leading up to the third and climactic "Agnus Dei" section).  For Hyperion, too, this appears to be the first time they have released a CD of the Masses for Three and Four voices (Hyperion have two previous recordings of the Mass for Five Voices by Winchester Cathedral Choir under Hill and Westminster Abbey Choir under O'Donnell - the Cardinall's Musick recording of the Three Masses was recorded on ASV, before Hyperion took over that group's project of recording the entire Byrd repertoire).