O Magnum Mysterium - Gabrieli, Victoria, Gesualdo, Lassus, Palestrina

By W. L. Hoffmann (The Canberra Times, Wednesday August 21 2002, Page 10)

Choral body returns to its quality of old

Australian National University Choral Society, St Andrew's Church, Forrest, August 16.

CHORAL music continues to flourish in Canberra. Over the past four weeks there have been three choral concerts, each of which has gathered a pleasingly positive response from music lovers, with the third of these given last Friday night by the ANU Choral Society attracting an audience which comfortably filled St Andrew's Church.

Happily, the singing from this choral body on this occasion was much improved from that at their last performance I reviewed. Under the firm control of their new musical director, Jonathan Powles, the response from the singers was taut and assured in approach and of generally good tonal quality and expressive feeling.

It was a program that was nicely diverse in its careful programming, being entirely devoted to unaccompanied choral music by five of the most notable musical figures of the later Renaissance.

The concert started unusually but very effectively with Giovanni Gabrieli's 0 Magnum Mysterium for double choir in which the antiphonal writing was realised by utilising the architecture of the church. Thus with one group of singers in the Warriors' Chapel on one side and the other group opposite in the normal choir position, the audience was placed between them, and the interplay between the two choral groups made its full aural effect.

This effect was also used in another work for double choir, Tomas Victoria's lovely motet Ave Maria, gratia plena, which was sung later in the concert. The main part of the program was devoted to works for the full choir. These varied between madrigals by Carlo Gesualdo and motets by Palestrina and Victoria, and they were of constant musical interest and well sung.

Interspersed were items by a smaller chamber choir directed by the society's assistant conductor, Matthew Stuckings. These brought variety, but here the singing generally was not quite as assured as that of the full body. Further variety was added by a group of pieces of the period for recorder ensemble.

It was certainly very pleasing to hear the ANU Choral Society back to the quality of singing that we have enjoyed from them in the past.