Rewarding night of power and beauty

By W. L. Hoffmann (Canberra Times, Wednesday 1 October 2003)

Australian National University Choral Society, Albert Hall, 26 September.

This marvellous choral composition was the major work of the program which the ANU Choral Society presented at its concert last Friday night. Happily the choristers and soloists, under the firm direction of conductor Jonathan Powles, achieved a rewarding performance that captured so much of the beauty and power of the music.

The choir for this performance consisted of a strong body of 100 singers, yet the choral singing was always well controlled, with powerful projection when called for, and nicely modulated to warm expression in the work's quieter sections. This pleasing vitality was matched by equally vital contributions from the four soloists - soprano Catriona DeVere, mezzo Mary Tatchell, tenor Michael Honeyman, and baritone Chris Berensten.

Although Mozart uses four soloists, the main solo contributions come from the women, with the tenor and baritone only used in ensemble towards the end of the work. The soprano has two important solos, the central Christe in the opening Kyrie and later the lovely Et incarnatus est, and, in both, DeVere displayed an assured approach, with a firm vocal projection matched to a warm tonal expression. Tatchell brought a bright joyousness to the mezzo solo in Laudamus te, while their duet in the Dominus Deus was realised with an excellent matching of tonal quality.

The other work of the program, Bach's Cantata No 146, is on a much smaller scale, consisting of an opening orchestral Sinfonia which was an adaptation of a previously composed keyboard concerto, and just two chorales, these divided by a series of five aria and duet contributions by the soloists. The cantata was directed by the assistant conductor, Matthew Stuckings, and unfortunately it was given a very pedestrian performance which never really came to life.

It failed to provide a vital start to the program, and a number of people in the audience around where I was sitting did not return for the second half. This was a pity, for they missed the Mozart Mass - one of the best choral performances that I have heard in Canberra this year.