The Choir’s 2015 concert season got off to a brilliant start with a Great Hall performance on 3 May of Dvořák’s wonderful Stabat Mater. Dvořák marked a new direction in Grads’ repertoire and a thoroughly satisfying one at that.
In the deliberations of the Programming Committee in October 2014, Christoph Kaufmann (tenor) and some ring-in desperado (bass) argued strongly for a Dvořák work, Christoph specifying the Stabat Mater, which he had sung in his East German choir in Saalfeld. (According to his account, that performance had made little impact, because it took place almost simultaneously with the fall of the Berlin Wall). There were understandable concerns on the part of some members of the Committee that mounting the work, with its large orchestra, might be very expensive. But, persuaded by Christoph’s thoughtful arguments, and ignoring the wild ravings of the above-mentioned desperado, the group decided to take a punt, shelve any financial reservations, and put the Stabat Mater on the program. (Another signal service of Christoph to the Choir—it was very cheering to have his four month-old son, Finlay, an extraordinarily well-behaved and obviously musical child, present at the orchestral rehearsal. Fin thoughtfully brought his Mum, Ann Marie, along with him.)
When rehearsals began in February, the Choir quickly fell in love with the Czech master’s work, with its plentiful, effortless melody, technical mastery and drama. It was an unusual experience for us to sing such uninhibitedly romantic music.
An excellent quartet of soloists was engaged:
Lucinda-Mirikata Deacon (soprano), the inaugural winner of the Joan Carden Award in 2005, who subsequently studied at the Guildhall School in London, and has experience performing with Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera and Glyndebourne Education.
Ashlyn Skye Timms (mezzo), a young singer, who came across from Perth to do the gig. Ashlyn has been awarded a scholarship to undertake the Masters program at the Royal College of Music, London, in 2015-16.
David Hamilton (tenor), who has considerable experience in opera and concert performance in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Germany, where he has sung in two performances of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater.
Finally, Adrian Tamburini (bass), a Principal with Opera Australia, who had performed with distinction in our premiere of Christopher Bowen’s An Australian War Requiem in August 2014.
It was a great pleasure for us to work again with Lucinda-Mirikata and Adrian and to get to know Ashlyn and David.
When we gathered in the Great Hall for the orchestral rehearsal on the day before the concert, the 44 players made an impressive sight. This was the largest instrumental ensemble we have ever assembled in Blacket’s sandstone Gothic masterpiece. Our regular Orchestra Leader, Stan Kornel, was unavoidably out of town with his Sydney Consort, and Michele O’Young ably deputized for him. Our distinguished Principal Clarinettist, Deborah de Graaff was also unavailable and Nattanan Low filled in for her. Otherwise many of our regular players were on duty: Inge Courtney-Haentjes (violin), Robert Harris (viola), John Benz (cello), Paul Laszlo (double bass), Bronwen Needham (flute), Duncan Thorpe (oboe), Gillian Smith (bassoon), Graham Nicholls (horn), Melanie McLoughlin and David Pye (trumpets), Michael Wyborn (trombone), and Steve Machamer (timpani), who had a much more restrained part than he has had recently, in such works as Verdi’s Requiem and Christopher’s An Australian War Requiem. It was a great pleasure to have Amy Johansen back in the organ loft after a recent illness.
The orchestral musicians obviously revelled in Dvořák’s graceful instrumental writing; Robert Harris and the viola section found themselves in an unprecedentedly large six-person section, to permit them to do justice to the divided sections of the score by this viola-playing composer. The orchestra sounded marvelous, as usual. Christopher Bowen consistently coaxes them into superb playing.
Despite the overcast, drizzly weather on concert day, the Great Hall was packed out. We were delighted that our Patron, Professor the Hon. Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO was present. Professor Bashir had recently graciously accepted our request to remain on in the role, after stepping down as Governor of New South Wales and Chancellor of the University. Miss Joan Carden, the Czech Consul, Mr Hani Stolina, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ann Brewer were also in the audience.
The audience reacted with enormous enthusiasm to the performance, not surprisingly in view of the masterly way Dvořák moves from the generally restrained, sorrowful mood of most of the music into the triumph and tumult of the overwhelming Finale, surely one of the most exciting conclusions to any work. On the way to that conclusion, there were outstanding moments for Lucinda-Mirikata Deacon and David Hamilton in their duet ‘Fac, ut portem Christi mortem’, for Adrian Tamburini in his solo ‘Fac, ut ardeat cor meum’, and for Ashlyn Skye Timms in her solo ‘Inflammatus et accensus’. As well, the singing of this solo quartet in concerted passages was of a very high standard.
It is extraordinary that a work of this quality, by one of the most popular and approachable composers, is so infrequently heard in Australia, particularly when we consider Dvořák’s complaint to his publisher in February 1886:
The Stabat Mater has become popular in England and has also been performed in America and Australia [it was performed in Melbourne in the early 1880s] to great acclaim, but what of Germany and Austria? Well, let’s hope for the best!
So it appears that Dvořák’s great work was heard in Melbourne before Vienna. So much for the tyranny of distance!
Before the performance began, President, David Moser, took the opportunity of Professor Bashir’s presence to arrange for the presentation of a Patron’s Award to Marilyn Gosling (soprano). David spoke eloquently of Marilyn’s outstanding contribution to the Choir as President from 2009 to 2011, and subsequently. Professor Bashir warmly congratulated Marilyn, and spoke enthusiastically of the musical contribution of Christopher Bowen and the Choir, thus confirming how lucky the Choir is to have her in continued association with us
All in all, this was a brilliant start to 2015 for the Choir.