Powles does it again

By W. L. Hoffmann (Canberra Times)

Evening Prayers, ANU Choral Society with the Scuna Orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Powles, St Christopher's Church, Manuka, May 27.

Since the time Jonathan Powles took over as musical director of the ANU Choral Society, in 2002, the society has been able to reverse any trend towards a decline in quality choral music performance in Canberra.

So it was gratifying last Saturday to hear this choir, with its body of 80 voices and its orchestra of 40 players, in a concert of highly attractive major choral works realised in pleasingly rewarding performances. The program started promisingly with a charming performance of Faure's Cantinque to Jean Racine, in which the singing and playing was carefully shaped and warmly expressive. This fine rapport between choir and orchestra was also a special feature of the concert's item of particular interest - the premiere performance of Vigil, a recent composition by the conductor.

This music was Powles's response to the 2004 Beslan tragedy, and takes for its text the words of three traditional vesper chants of the Russian Orthodox Church. Although that event was dramatic, the music is reflective and gently sorrowful, reflecting the composer's response to the tragedy, and under his baton the musicians provided a responsive performance, one which, at a first hearing, made a strong impression.

The balance of the program was devoted to Mozart. The newly formed Scuna Orchestra made its first public appearance, and Mozart's Flute and Harp Concerto, K 299, was a charming inclusion. With the soloists, Liljana Andonovska (flute) and Tegan Poemeller (harp), providing playing that was bright and engaging, and with lively support form the orchestra, it was a delightful interlude.

The second Mozart work was his Solemn Vespers, K 339. Despite its title, this is a joyous work, and the sense of joy was nicely captured in the choral singing, while the four soloists (soprano Monica Jones, alto Eleanor Greenwood, tenor Andrew Lees-Hawke, and bass Mark Brooker) also contributed strongly, with Jones's radiant solo singing in Laudate Dominum being specially noteworthy. It was a performance which brought the program to a gratifying end.