Church sounds that were made in heaven

By W. L. Hoffmann (Canberra Times, Monday 14 June 2004)

Australian National University Choral Society. Conducted by Jonathan Powles. St Christopher's Cathedral, Manuka, 5 June.

The attractive two-work program which the ANU Choral Society (SCUNA) presented last Saturday night drew a surprising capacity audience to the church.

Happily, performances were worthy of the obvious expectations of those attending.

Vivaldi's Gloria is music of jubilation, and it received a performance which pleasingly captured the essential expressive qualities of the work. The 75-voice choir sang with well-controlled enthusiasm, providing an exhilarating performance that the conductor never allowed to get out of hand. The soloists, Catriona DeVere, Jenny Sawer (sopranos) and Miriam Miley-Read (mezzo), made fine contributions in the sequence of solos.

The lovely Requiem of French composer Gabriel Fauré is different from most musical settings of the Latin Mass for the dead. In mood it is essentially music of consolation, gently lyrical and warmly expressive. Despite the size of the choir, rather large for Fauré's light and generally contemplative choral writing, the body of sound was suitable restrained in the work's few moments of more assertive expression. Catriona DeVere sang with firm yet beautifully shaped tonal quality in the soprano solos, particularly moving in the Pie Jesu, while baritone Sitiveni Whippy brought a warm resonance to his singing of the Libera Me, the single stirring moment in the work. And the full orchestra made an important contribution to the success of the performance.

Since he took over as musical director of this choir, conductor Jonathan Powles has made a considerable improvement in not only the tonal quality of the singing but also in the expressive approach to the works. The rewarding realisations of two such different works as the Vivaldi and the Fauré were an excellent continuation of that improvement.