Five minutes with…Celeste Lazarenko, soprano

In the lead up to the premiere of ‘An Australian War Requiem’ in August, we asked each of our soloists for their thoughts on being part of such an important work. Celeste Lazarenko kindly answered, as follows:

What is the most poignant (and enduring) image evoked for you by the words?

A moment of contemplation - Celeste Lazarenko at the Sydney Town Hall, Verdi Requiem, 2013

A moment of contemplation – Celeste Lazarenko at the Sydney Town Hall, Verdi Requiem, 2013. (Photographer: Tibor Morvay)

My ‘character’ in this piece is that of the Mother to the missing—a really terribly symbolic and moving character. She mourns and longs for the loss of her sons. She is not only, in many ways, a ‘living’ character, in that so many letters exist between sons and mothers especially in WWI because these boys who perished were just so young, but she can also represent the Holy Mother, who mourns the tragic fate of her beloved son, even the Motherland mourning her departed. I can imagine the communication between mother and son would have been terribly important when facing death in war for young men. I know that importance is recognised strongly in this piece.

What are you looking forward to most about the premiere on August 10?

Seeing this piece fleshed out. Being a premiere it is sure to be new to everyone and it will be exciting to hear it come together.

What is on the horizon for you now?

I am in the beginning stages of picking apart the work I shall be involved in for Sydney Chamber Opera, Io Passion. Looks like it’s going to be a fantastic piece, if not terribly difficult to learn!

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Gallipoli—a name that will never be forgotten

Extracts from letter to his mother, written 19th May from hospital ship ‘Seang Choon’ at Lemnos island by Platoon Sergeant Lisle M Lane (4th Battalion), who was wounded on the 26th April, but is now at the front again fighting the Turks.

We left Lemnos Island on Saturday afternoon 24th April, and sailed up towards Turkey. We anchored north of this island and waited there till after midnight, and then set off for the shores of Turkey. We could see the land as soon as day broke, and by then some of our boys were ashore and we could hear the guns going, and as soon as daylight came along came the Turkish shells, throwing shrapnel (one of our worst troubles) everywhere. This caused a lot of casualties before we had started to take the surrounding hills at all… Our turn came at last and we were towed ashore. We were not subjected to much firing on landing, but got it as soon as we landed, shrapnel bursting all around us. We lost men straightaway…

… We got into a valley and we got the order to throw off our packs, and, this done, we commenced to charge, and we took two hills at the point of the bayonet., under heavy fire all the time and with men falling all around us…That Sunday’s work was a marvel. When we look now at the hills we scaled, at the positions we took all along the line, and the distance we travelled, we marvel how it was done. We lost a lot of men in every Brigade doing it; some were killed before they touched land, for the Turks had maxims [heavy machine guns] and field-guns mounted right close to the beach. I think Australians made a name for themselves that Sunday that will never be forgotten. (Lisle Lane, as published in the Orange Leader 1 July 1915)

The Sphinx - Anzac Cove. (Image courtesy R O'Neale)

The Sphinx – Anzac Cove. (Image courtesy R O’Neale)

From his boat waiting to go ashore on 25 April 1915 young Lisle Lane, grazier and surveyor of Orange could hear the bombardment, could see his fellow soldiers falling under fire as they struggled of the beach and to gain a foothold on the steep cliffs at the beach at Ari Burnu, later to be known as Anzac Cove. ‘Rather north of Gapa Tepe than was originally intended’ British journalist Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett somewhat wryly commented when writing his account of the landing.

Lisle was one of the first to leave Australia, enlisting just three weeks after war broke out. The early AIF recruits had left Australia in October 1914 heading for Europe. However, they were diverted to Egypt to meet the threat of the Ottoman Empire, and to help blaze a path to Constantinople. After training at Mena near Cairo at the foot of the pyramids, they departed by ship for the Gallipoli peninsula together with troops from New Zealand, Britain, France and India.

Within 24 hours Lisle had been shot in the leg, but he fought through, injured, for at least 48 hours more—without sleep—before he obtained medical aid. His leg later turned septic and he was evacuated to hospital, to be patched up so that he could return to the fight.

In the south, Markham Henry Giradot, fighting with the British Army Essex Regiment, had landed at Cape Helles on 25 April. He survived only five days, dying on 30 April 1915.

Walter Eastment had enlisted in January 1915 and embarked for the front in March 1915 as part of the 4th reinforcements 13th Battalion. He arrived at Gallipoli on 27 May 1915, but a poisoned foot took him quickly out of the action from 7 August.

After the first push up into the hills of the peninsula, the advance halted. The troops dug in and the battle became a series of ambushes and sniper attacks, under relentless waves of shellfire. Not surprisingly, Turkish names for hills and gullies were soon replaced by Anzac names: Death Gully, Casualty Corner, Shrapnel Gully, Quinn’s Post, the Sphinx…as well as more militarily bland ‘Hill Q, 60, 70…Even the guns which wrought so much carnage were named, most notorious of which was Beachy Bill, the Turk’s gun emplacement at Gaba Tepe.

Lone Pine cemetery in the late afternoon. Image by Gary Blakely, accessed via Wikimedia, reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Lone Pine cemetery in the late afternoon. Image by Gary Blakely, accessed via Wikimedia, reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In August 1915, the command issued orders for concerted campaign aimed at decisively breaking through the Turkish lines. These attacks centred around a number of key locations, that have become inextricably intertwined with Australia’s understanding of Anzac: the Nek, with the absolute slaughter of the 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade (comprising the 8th, 9th, 10th Regiments), and Lone Pine; the attacks on the Sari Bair range, at Chunuk Bair and Hill 971, and from the north British landings at Suvla Bay and attacks at Hill 60.

Lone Pine—originally intended as a diversion from the New Zealand and other Australian attacks—resulted in more than 2,000 casualties. It was a fierce battle of desperate hand-to-hand fighting and step-by-step advances to capture the Turkish trenches. Losses were extremely heavy on both sides.

Last seen during the charge at Lone Pine on 6 August 1915 was 28 year old Henry Herbert (Bert) Bartrop, former clerk from Sydney and fiancée of Bess Dodds. He had arrived on the Gallipoli peninsula only two days before, on 4 August, as part of the 3rd Battalion AIF.

Memorial at Chunuk Bair to the New Zealand forces. The inscription reads 'In honour of the soldiers of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force 8th August 1915. "To the uttermost ends of the earth".' (Image courtesy R O'Neale)

Memorial at Chunuk Bair to the New Zealand forces. The inscription reads ‘In honour of the soldiers of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force 8th August 1915. “To the uttermost ends of the earth”.’ (Image courtesy R O’Neale)

Jo Hardy from Wellington, New Zealand, serving with the Wellington Regiment NZEF vanished into the rain of fire in the charge on Chunuk Bair on 8 August 1915, where NZ briefly made ground before the advance was overcome by the Turkish forces led by Mustapha Kemal (Atatürk). Jo was just one of New Zealand’s enormous losses on this day.

The August offensive halted by the 27th, with limited gains having been made. Thereafter stalemate reigned.

George Chesney had also enlisted in May of that year, in South Australia. Aged 26 and by occupation a draper, he found himself at Gallipoli in October 1915 involved in the numerous skirmishes under fire that occurred what was otherwise a quiet time (in terms of specific action). He became ill and was treated by the 7th Field Ambulance (whose members included Reginald James Godfrey and Asdruebal James Keast, and whose writings are excerpted in the libretto for An Australian War Requiem), before returning to his battalion. George later received a gunshot wound to his wrist, and, though this was not deemed ‘serious’, he was evacuated out.

Garibaldi Bitossi, aged 24, who left New Zealand on 14 December 1914 as part of the 2nd reinforcements Wellington Infantry Battalion landed at Gallipoli and undertook the vitally important role of muleteer. As a ‘mule-puncher’ he provided a lifeline for men in the gullies and on the ridges, carrying food, water, ammunition and medical supplies. Garibaldi (called ‘Garliano’ by his family) spent seven months at Gallipoli before being invalided home due to sudden eye failure.

The situation at Gallipoli remained essentially deadlocked until the end of 1915. Facing the onset of a harsh winter, with poorly equipped troops and deteriorating morale, this was finally recognised to be unwinnable and the withdrawal began.

This was a cunningly executed and very successful withdrawal. It relied on an illusion created by silence—long periods without return gun fire, then just enough to demonstrate an ongoing on presence—and strategic visibility (including well-placed cricket matches on Shell Green) until the final detachments were taken off the beach under cover of darkness on 20 December 1915.

Tribute to the Turkish soldiers from General Birdwood, Turkish Cemetery, Gallipoli. (Image courtesy R O'Neale)

Tribute to the Turkish soldiers from General Birdwood, Turkish Cemetery, Gallipoli. (Image courtesy R O’Neale)

The Gallipoli campaign was one of grinding endurance, through enormous physical and psychological strain. Those who were there write of the difficulties caused by the lack of sleep, the poor food (particularly of the bully beef and hard biscuits), of the dreadful contamination of the drinking water, of the ghastly stench created by the dead of both sides lying unburied. Lice and other vermin were a real problem, exacerbated by the lack of water for bathing. Artillery fire at such close quarters meant that soldiers witnessed sights no one should see, no one could forget.

Australia’s official war correspondent, Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean, landed at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915, and remained with the AIF until the withdrawal 8 months later. He wrote:

By dawn on December 20th Anzac had faded into a dim blue line lost amid other hills on the horizon as the ships took their human freight to Imbros, Lemnos and Egypt. But Anzac stood, and still stands, for reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity and endurance that will never own defeat. (CEW Bean Anzac to Amiens, 1946, p181)

 

Lisle Lane and Garibaldi Bitossi – Andrew (tenor)
Markham Henry Giradot –Kate (guest choir)
Henry Herbert (Bert) Bartrop – Roger (bass)
George Chesney – Deb (alto)
Walter Eastment – Catherine (alto)
Jo Hardy – Martin (tenor)

More detailed accounts for some of the soldiers mentioned in this post will shortly be published on our website An Australian War Requiem. Hyperlinks will be added to this blog post as they become available.

 

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‘Thy battle’s fought’—Interview with Pamela Traynor, librettist—Part 2

Finding Reginald James Godfrey

(This post was also published at An Australian War Requiem website.)

In one of the letters Christopher and I read at the Australian War Memorial, written by Asdruebal James Keast to his mother during the War, there is a reference to a poem from ‘Jim’, his friend. Keast wrote that the poem was written after a burial at sea on the way to Heliopolis. I very much wanted to include the poem On a Dying Soldier in the libretto, but I needed to obtain permission to do so.

Hence the search for Reginald James Godfrey’s descendants to ask for permission. Christopher and I were on the job…

We looked at Keast’s embarkation records in the search for ‘Jim’ and these records revealed a Reginald James Godfrey had embarked at the same time (on the HMAT Geelong A2, on 31 May 1915). This name was listed immediately before Keast’s name. So we suspected that the James could be ‘Jim’! On the Embarkation Rolls Godfrey’s Service Number was 3985 and Keast’s 3986. I was later to discover that both men were pacifists, and—as with so many others —had joined the Field Ambulance Brigades to help with the war effort without compromising their principles.  With this, the connection between them was established.

Reginald James Godfrey (image courtesy of the Godfrey family)

Reginald James Godfrey (image courtesy of the Godfrey family)

Godfrey, I learned, lived in Murray Bridge, South Australia. Further research through the Murray Bridge Historical Society revealed that Reginald James Godfrey was a poet, and some of his poetry had been published. Armed with this information, I then discovered Adelaide historian Glenys Edwards who had published a small volume of Godfrey’s poetry.

I corresponded for a couple of months with Glenys—we were both determined to find Godfrey’s descendants. When Glenys had published his poems, she only had the first names of his children—no surnames— and didn’t ultimately find them before the book of poetry was completed. Even finding someone with the knowledge of just a first name was challenge!

Godfrey’s children’s names were Dolores, Violet May, Paula and son John Dan. The girls had very likely married so no surnames there. But I pursued John Dan Godfrey. Having established that the family had moved to Murray Bridge in South Australia in the 1940s,I wrote a letter to the last known address there, but my letter was soon ‘Returned to Sender’.

Glenys also wrote to the address, to no avail. I then wrote to the Murray Bridge RSL Branch but they also had no knowledge nor records.

Along the way I’d contacted Val and John Stafford,  Asdruebal Keast’s family. Val remembered Godfrey very well , told me that he often came to their home and that Asdruebal and Jim became very close friends from the time they met—a friendship that was to last all their lives. She remembered the wonderful times they spend together, laughing, reminiscing. But, ultimately Val couldn’t help me in locating Godfrey’s descendants.

My next strategy was to write to the Editor of the ‘Murray Valley Standard’ in Murray Bridge and they published my letter. But no response.

By that time I’d discovered the first names (again no surnames) of Godfrey’s grandchildren and wrote again to the Murray Bridge newspaper and they published my second letter which read:

SEARCHING FOR A FAMILY

We need to contact descendants of Reginald James Godfrey who was a resident of Murray Bridge and who died on June 5 1979.

His grandchildren’s names are Lesley, David, Jamie, Alison, Meredith, Roger and Felicity. This inquiry is in connection with the poetry of Reginald James Godfrey. If his grandchildren, named above, or anyone knowing Godfrey’s descendants would get in touch we would be most grateful for any information…

Then came my first small nugget of gold. I was contacted by ‘Helen’, who wrote ‘I saw your letter in our local paper. My late cousin was married to Dolores Godfrey. Their three children all live in the south east of South Australia. Most importantly, Helen provided contact details.

So, there the story ended. I phoned Jamie, Godfrey’s grandson, and he gave permission to use the poem On a dying soldier. And I was pleased to be able to put Jamie in touch with Glenys Edwards so that he could read much more of his grandfather’s poetry.

Reginald James Godfrey and his dear friend Asdruebal James Keast died within a year of one another.

Jamie and family and Val and John Stafford will be travelling from South Australia for the premier of An Australian War Requiem.

Pamela Traynor
June 2014

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Treasured letters: an interview with Pamela Traynor, librettist—part 1

The libretto for An Australian War Requiem features quotes from letters between soldiers at the front and mothers at home in Australia. It also includes excerpts from poems, and from the sacred hymn of Mary, the Stabat Mater. The libretto was created by Pamela Traynor, who kindly answered questions about research, writing, and the emotional bond between sons and mothers.

What was the spark for you to become involved in this project?

I have to say that when Christopher Bowen said to me a few years ago that he’d like to do something to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War 1, I didn’t know that I was all that interested—I didn’t have much knowledge of World War 1 or any wars, to be honest. But when he said he’d like to base it on letters between young soldiers on the battle front and their mothers at home in Australia it hit me, it became something emotional I could connect with, as a mother and as someone who’s worked in social documentaries.

How did you source the letters for the text?

I did wonder ‘Are there letters? Where are they?’ I finally found myself at the research centre at the Australian War Memorial where they do indeed have letters, where I could actually look at them, the original letters. Then I was on fire. The incredible journey began.

Christopher and I made four trips there and I spent hours, days, weeks reading all these letters that had been exchanged between mothers and sons. Though they were mainly from sons to mothers. Letters from mothers to sons, understandably, were lost, whereas mothers kept those letters from their sons, treasured them.

And I wondered, how did they cope? Because, many of the kids I read about who went off to War had never been outside their own home town, let alone on the battlefront of France, on the Western Front. And some of them were under age—they had lied about their age in order to go.

Reading the original letters was a very emotional experience. I can’t tell you how many tears I shed. There they were, those words on the page that were written by boys of 18, 19, 20 years of age who’d left Australia, left their Mums, left their families, and there they were in this strange and foreign place seeing their comrades die, fearful that they would be the next to die. It had a profound effect upon me. It made the war real to me.

What guided you in your selections of text for the libretto?

The War Requiem is essentially about love. And it’s about loss, it’s about destruction and courage. The music demonstrates that in all its passion and power.

But apart from the poems which are directly quoted, all the hundreds of letters that we’ve read inspired the libretto. Christopher originally came up with the idea of including/juxtaposing the Stabat Mater which describes Mary the mother of Christ standing at the foot of the cross witnessing the death of her son. That was a most appropriate allegory. And that again added to the emotion of the whole experience. Because that’s what these letters were about: love between mothers and sons.

Tell us about the detective work you had to use to find the identity and then the descendants of the writers?

That was a huge part of the whole project—you can’t just use something without asking permission! And so, while it occupied a lot of time, it was very, very worthwhile. It can be very frustrating when your research path leads to a dead end and you’re back at the beginning and have to start all over again. But then you strike gold and you find the descendants of the letter writer or the poet, and that’s very thrilling.

What is the most poignant (and enduring) image evoked for you by the words?

I still get very upset when I think about it. It’s a small part of the libretto, towards the end—a pastor has written about this young soldier who’d been out in the battle and is attacked by gas. The last words of this young man that were witnessed as he walked off the front line were ‘I’m done. Get your gas helmets on, boys’. And that will forever stay in my memory because I knew him, it was so real to me. That soldier was young Clive Crowley. I had come to know him through the heartfelt letters his mother Alice had written to him. Clive didn’t ever recover, he died. It upset me greatly. But of course there was so much that was moving, there were thousands who died.

What have you found most rewarding about working on the text for An Australian War Requiem? From the beginning to the end. What have you personally gained from it?

Well, learning about the subject first of all, learning about World War 1. But the most rewarding has to be reading the original letters. It was a hugely emotional experience for me. And working with Christopher Bowen has been a wonderful and memorable experience: his ability to translate words and feelings in to the powerful music he has created is unique.

What are you looking forward to most about the premiere on August 10?

I’m looking forward to it all finally coming together for the performance: the big orchestra, the brilliant soloists, a terrific guest choir, the children’s choir and above all the Sydney University Graduate Choir who are amazing and one of the finest in the country. It has been a long journey, so it will be such a joy for me seeing it finally come alive with everything that we ever wanted it to be, with the people we wanted to do it with.

Special thanks go to Marilyn Gosling, Evelyne DeClercq and John Bowan for helping this dream become a reality. Also, to the Australian War Memorial, David Moser, the Sydney University Graduate Choir, President David Herrero and Committee and Rosalie O’Neale.

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The board is set…

(This post also appears on the AWR website.)

As we work through our rehearsals for An Australian War Requiem, it’s not surprising that our thoughts turn to members of our own families who went off to war to ‘do their bit’, that we wonder about their lives here at home before war broke out, and their experiences ‘over there’ at the Front.

One hundred years ago, in mid 1914, as the lamps were going out all over Europe, Australia was settling itself into winter. Life for the young men of that time seemed set to continue on its expected patterns—the cycle of church, work and social activities that had defined their parents’ lives. There was little hint of the upheaval ahead.

That’s not to say the world wasn’t changing—there were new and very exciting developments in technology and communication in the wind. The first airmail delivery was made in July 1914, picture theatres were becoming commonplace…even in country towns. But change was not occurring at the speed that we take for granted today. The national focus was largely inwards—a glance at the Australian papers of the time show that while there was interest in the European situation, much more attention was being paid to the upcoming Federal election (called following a double dissolution of Parliament, and due for September that year). From the farmers’ perspective, the worsening drought over the autumn and winter period was a more immediate, and very pressing, concern.

George and Fred Weir were working with their father on the family’s dairy farm, just outside Kiama on the South Coast of NSW. They’d grown up on the steep, but lush pastureland between Saddleback Mountain and Loves Bay which so strongly resembled the Ireland their grandfathers had left some 60 years before. Each morning of their lives the boys had woken to the sound of the sea, they had grown into adulthood surrounded by a close-knit community of large families, many of whom were more, or less, family to them. Both Fred and George had strong ties to their place in the world, and the earth under their feet.

In northern NSW their cousin, James Alexander Weir (called Alex so as not to confuse him with his father, also James) had left the family farm at Clunes, near Lismore, and gone to work in Brisbane as a storeman. It was steady work, and Alex was looking forward to a bright and solid future. Predictable. A chance to get ahead.

Also on the land, Lisle Lane—a popular young man in his local district and keen footballer— had been articled to a land surveyor in Orange, and was working on his brother’s property in Cudal some 25 miles away.

In Sydney, Milne Barry Gow, the motor mechanic, lived slightly further afield (but still ‘Inner West’) in Strathfield. the three Bartrop brothers (also in Sydney) were following quite individual career paths: Henry Herbert (Bert) Bartrop was working as a clerk at Caxtons, the timber merchants, William Bartrop was at Sydney University and Sydney Teachers College where he was combining his studies to obtain a Bachelor of Arts and teaching qualifications, and where he met his future wife, Ethel. (They married in 1915).

Harold Bartrop, the youngest brother, was a bricklayer, working in the family building business. He was also an apprentice at Sydney Technical College, Ultimo, and it is quite conceivable that, as he travelled to classes, he crossed paths with John ‘Bede’ Avery, who lived in Camperdown and worked on the trams as a conductor.

Over in South Australia, Charles Schulz was only 16 in 1914, but he was clearly keen to enlist at the earliest opportunity…an opportunity he took as soon as he turned 18 in 1916. In the interim he became a painter, and lived with his mother, brothers and sisters in North Adelaide.

Across the ditch in New Zealand, Jo Hardy was living and working in Wellington, and just recently married to his sweetheart Emily. Also in the North Island, Garibaldi Bitossi was living in Marton, a farming and timber district north of Wellington.

And on the other side of the world, Ernst Moser acted as legal counsel at the Schultheiss Brewery in Berlin, while Leslie Dixon set off to work each day as an office junior in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England.

The Weir family - 1915

The Weir family – 1915. Image courtesy G and M Weir

From 4 August 1914 the focus moved sharply outwards, to the world far beyond Australia’s shores. Young men confronted a decision which would dictate the shape of the rest of their lives, quite literally. Some approached the choice as a duty, some as an adventure; some tried to find a way to contribute but without comprising principles of non-violence. Suddenly new patterns evolved—once the hard decision was made there were agreements reached with employers, the round of farewells, including ‘tokens of regard’ from family, church or social group, a photograph taken for remembrance sake, affairs put in order…and weddings held with much shorter engagement periods, and considerably less ‘fuss’ than was usual prior to the War. Saying Goodbye and God speed became the norm.

Each of these young men, from diverse backgrounds, home towns and family situations, voluntarily set their feet on a path leading them to a common destination. Whether it was Gallipoli, the Western Front or Palestine, the end of the line was War.

(To be continued)

Rosalie

With thanks to:

Roger (bass) – Bert, William, Harold Bartrop
Andrew (tenor) – Lisle Lane, Garibaldi Bartossi
Prue (soprano) – Charles Schulz
Martin (tenor) – Jo Hardy
Barry (bass)  – Milne Barry Gow
David (bass) – Leslie Dixon, Ernst Moser
Rosalie (alto) – George, Fred and Alex Weir
Cath (alto) – Bede Avery

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An Australian War Requiem—beginning our journey

There is something very special about picking up the score of a newly composed work at the start of a rehearsal period; of leafing through the pages and ever-so-slightly stumbling over unfamiliar words, fumbling through initially alien harmonies. The contents between the clean black covers is a mystery. For this work we have nothing to fall back on—no prior knowledge, no overarching ‘genre’ or ‘era’ to provide clues about harmonic progression and musical structure, as we do when we sing the works of Bach, Mozart and Haydn. We are in uncharted territory.

Flesselles, France November 1916. 'Catching up with Correspondence'. Image E00030 Australian War Memorial

Flesselles, France November 1916. ‘Catching up with Correspondence’. Image E00030 Australian War Memorial

And yet, as our musicianship has expanded with each year’s series of concerts, it takes only one (or perhaps two) rehearsals before the lilt of the melodic lines begins to fall into place and the cascade of chords and implicit percussion compellingly tell their own story of cold winter’s nights, of gunfire, fear and lament.

This is an emotional work to sing. The story that unfolds within the score is universal, and calls to everyone: a man’s expression of the horror he’s surrounded by, a mother’s heartache for her young son so far away in a foreign land, her grief at his loss. His letters written home to his mother—missing her, confiding, frightened, angry. Its premiere (at the Sydney Town Hall on 10 August) is promising to be a most memorable occasion, a fitting commemoration of those who went off to ‘do their bit’ in the Great War, and of those who waited behind praying for their boy’s safe return.

We hope to share this experience with you, through our blog as well as a soon to be unveiled dedicated website We invite those who might be interested in singing with us to join our Guest Choir. (You can find more information about guest registration here). And not least, we hope you can join us as the Sydney Town Hall at 3pm on 10 August 2014, for the premiere of An Australian War Requiem.

Rosalie

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The Kornels and the Sydney Consort: Stabat Mater

In a blog item posted on 28 February, we reported on the first concert of 2014 by early music group, the Sydney Consort, which is led by the concert master of the Choir’s orchestra, violinist Stan Kornel, and has as an important member, keyboard player Monica Kornel, Stan’s wife. We also foreshadowed the group’s second concert for the year, a blend of sacred vocal and instrumental works to be  performed at St Augustine’s Catholic Church on Good Friday, 19 April. A number of us attended this second concert and it is a pleasure to be able to report that it at least equalled in quality the February event.

Stabat Mater

Stabat Mater

The biggest work performed by the group was the Stabat Mater of Antonio Caldara (1670-1736). The four solo singers in this work included two, who have sung with us: Belinda Montgomery (soprano) who sang in our performance of Zelenka’s Missa Dei Patris last December; and Alexander Knight (baritone), who has performed with us on several occasions, most notably in the name role of Mendelssohn’s Paulus in May 2012. The other members of the vocal quartet were Anna Fraser (mezzo) and Richard Black (tenor), both from the Song Company. The vocal program also included three short but lovely works by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), whose Te Deum and Messe de Minuit sur des Airs de Noel the Choir performed in December 2009 and December 2010 respectively.

The singers combined beautifully in all the works they performed. In particular Alexander Knight once again impressed with his elegant tone and cultivated singing.  The Caldara work employed two sackbuts, played by Nick Byrne and Jonathon Ramsay. These ancient instruments made a very distinctive sound and gave us a foretaste of what to expect, when they are added to the orchestra for our Salzburg Connection concert next month.

The program also included two exclusively instrumental works. The first of these was one of Heinrich Biber’s so-called Rosary sonatas, a collection of 15 sonatas for violin and basso continuo composed in the mid 1670s, ‘to the honour of the 15 holy mysteries of the Rosary,’ (in effect an early attempt at program music), and dedicated to Biber’s employer, the then Archbishop of Salzburg, Max Gandolph Graf von Kuenburg.  The soloist in this performance of the Sonata depicting the Crucifixion was Stan Kornel, who was supported by Fiona Ziegler on tenor viol (a sort of small viola da gamba, without frets) and Monika Kornel on chamber organ.  Stan was well up to the technical demands made by Biber, who was a virtuoso of the violin and one of the most interesting and original Baroque composers.

The other instrumental work was one of Arcangelo Corelli’s Church Sonatas, performed by Stan Kornel and Fiona Ziegler (baroque violins) and Monika Ziegler (chamber organ). The ensemble gave a fine performance of Corelli’s characteristically attractive work. This served as a prelude to Caldara’s Stabat Mater, which followed seamlessly without a break, even for applause.

This concert confirmed the impression created by that in February, that the Sydney Consort is a high quality ensemble, well worth the support of members and followers of the Choir. The next opportunity for this will be their next concert, which will take place at 8.00 pm on 23 May in the same venue. The concert, which bears the intriguing title, ‘Chaos’, will juxtapose works by Baroque composers, including a passacaglia for solo violin by Biber, with works by contemporary Australian composers, including Nigel Butterley.

John Bowan

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