The music for our August concert, consisting of three secular works for chorus and orchestra by Brahms, the Australian premiere of Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn’s cantata, Hiob (Job)and assorted arias sung by the three young finalists in the revamped Joan Carden Award, made for one of the most interesting events in the Choir’s recent history.
It was a major feat of organization, especially by Catherine Crittenden (alto), which made the new Joan Carden Award arrangements work. (Cath already has the Patron’s Award for service to the Choir. Unfortunately, the Choir does not have the Victoria Cross in its gift.) Since the Award’s inception in 2005, it has been run in close cooperation with the Conservatorium, which chose the contestants and provided the infrastructure for holding the event (venue, pianist, and an adjudicator to serve with Joan Carden and Christopher Bowen). By mutual agreement, this arrangement between the Choir and the Con was terminated in 2013, and we, or, rather, Catherine, found ourselves organizing the Award on our own. The complexity of the concert raised a series of challenges, which were ably met by Jackie Rotenstein (soprano-concert manager), Catherine O’Doherty (alto-front of house manager), and, in particular, David Moser (President), who coordinated the whole show.
In welcoming the audience, David announced that the concert would be dedicated to the memory of Joyce Jones, the much loved alto who died recently, and whose funeral had taken place a couple of days earlier, with a number of Grads singing and Christopher conducting.
Out of the semi-finals held in June, three finalists emerged: Morgan Balfour (soprano), Ashlyn Skye Tymms (mezzo), and Soonki Park (baritone). They were given the opportunity to contest the Final by singing with our orchestra under Christopher Bowen, in front of our Great Hall audience and adjudicators Joan Carden AO OBE, (who rose from her sick bed for the occasion), Anson Austin OAM, the distinguished, retired operatic tenor, and Christopher Bowen OAM.
This made for a veritable musical treat for the audience and the Choir, which had the privilege of listening from the risers. Ashlyn Tymms went first and sang Amour! Viens aider ma faiblesse! from Samson et Dalila of Saint-Saëns (smart choice, given Christopher’s predilection for this composer), and Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, from the Rückertlieder of Mahler. Soonki Park offered Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo from Mozart’s Cosí fan Tutte, and O Carlo ascolta….Io morro from Verdi’s Don Carlos.(Soonki has been appearing in the chorus in Opera Australia’s recent production of this great work.) Morgan Balfour sang two Donizetti arias, Il faut partir from La Fille du Régiment and Ah tardai troppo…O luce di quest’anima from Linda di Chamounix.
The musical offerings at this concert were much appreciated for their variety, although it created some sometimes quite bizarre juxtapositions—most glaringly that of the jaunty frivolity of Donizetti with the black weirdness of Brahms’ and Goethe’s Gesang der Parzen.
The Great Hall audience and the Choir members were very impressed by the high quality of the three singers, all of whom sounded terrific. The adjudicators selected Ashlyn Tymms, who had sung in our performance of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater in May, as the winner. Given the chance to cast a vote, the audience chose Morgan Balfour. Ashlyn goes to London in a few weeks to take up a scholarship to undertake the Master of Performance program at the Royal College of Music. The Award’s prize of $6,000 should stand her in good stead. We congratulate Ashlyn, and wish her, Morgan and Soonki all the best for the future, and look forward to their singing in future concerts with the Choir.
Not having had to do any of the work to organize the event, one can say that the new format of the Joan Carden Award has got off to an outstandingly successful start. From the point of those who do have to do the work, a major improvement is that the JCA will from now on, be held every two years, instead of annually.
Along with the glamour and tension of the singing competition (shades of Tannhäuser and Die Meistersinger), the concert included what we believe to be the Australian premiere of Fanny Mendelssohn’s cantata, Hiob (the German name for Job), sung by the Chamber Choir. The fine Australian pianist and writer, Anna Goldsworthy, who is a scholar on Felix Mendelssohn’s elder sister, kindly agreed that we could use some of her material in the program note, which helped to put Fanny and her music into historical context. Christoph Kaufmann (tenor) produced a beautiful program and made an important contribution to the program notes, in addition to his production of the vocal scores and translations. Clive Faro (bass), our new program editor, produced a finely focussed approach to the content.
Hiob turned out to be lively and entertaining, and challenging to sing. It was given a rousing performance by the Chamber Choir, to whose training Ros Moxham (soprano) once again made a valuable contribution. An initial judgment is that Hiob is probably not a great work, but interesting and well worth performing.
The full Choir’s vocal contribution to the concert was the performance of three rarely heard secular works by Brahms: Schicksalslied (‘Song of Destiny’), Gesang der Parzen (‘Song of the Fates’) and Nänie (‘Nenia’), to texts by Hölderlin, Goethe and Schiller respectively. These are all dark, somewhat obscure poems and Brahms’s music follows suit and we found some of the music elusive and difficult to learn. Hearing the works for the first time with the orchestration at the orchestral rehearsal the day before the performance, however, we began to appreciate their beautiful passages ‘(for example, the extended orchestral introduction to Schicksalslied, and much of Nänie) and their overall musical quality.
Mention of the orchestral writing is a reminder to acknowledge the splendid contribution of our 40 orchestral players, who played superbly across this wide variety of musical styles. Stan Kornel was back as orchestra leader, after missing our May concert. Our distinguished principal clarinettist, Deborah de Graaff, returned, joining a fine woodwind group which included legendary bassoonist, John Cran, oboist Duncan Thorpe, while Anna Rodger played the famous cor anglais part in the Mahler work, and flutist, Bronwyn Needham. Robert Harris led a six-player viola section for the second time this year, and John Benz the cello section, which had an especially important part to play in the Brahms works, while those two veterans of our double bass section, Paul Laszlo and John Ockwell, both played. Other notable instrumentalists on duty were Graham Nicholls (horn), Melanie McLoughlin (trumpet), and Steve Machamer (timpani). Azumi Lehmann (harp) played for us for the first time. Christopher Bowen again demonstrated his musical gifts by getting to the heart of the style required in all the music.