Two takes on Christmas

By Eric Pozza (Canberra Jazz blog)

I've missed too much recently with gigs and work and family, but I managed to emerge with an odd but satisfying combination of choral works for Christmas by SCUNA, the ANU Choral Society. The concert was for Christmas and there were two works, but of quite a stunning diversity.

Firstly, a modern (1943) piece by Britten to the quirky words of Christopher Smart written about 150 eyars earlier while he was in an asylum. You don't catch the words while sung, but this was praise of God by all things created. Wikipedia describes it as "idiosynctratic and ecstatic", and that easily fits, given lines like "For I will consider my Cat Jeoffrey, ... a cat, surpassing in beauty, from whom I take occasion to bless Almighty God" and subsequent praise for the valourous mouse. This was a work of organ, choir and SATB soloists, in eight sections lasting 17 minutes. I felt most comfortable with the big choral segments with supporting organ. This is clearly not an easy work and the performance was pleasing.

The second work was far easier to digest. Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Messe de Minuit is a midnight mass written for the Jesuit Church of St Louis in Paris. It was written in the popular song style of the time for a small orchestra and choir. This was sweet, lively dance-like baroque music featuring the simple tones of recorders with organ and strings. Lots of sturdy crotchets and bouncing dotted crotchets from the orchestra and diatonic calls and responses from the choir. Nowhere near the challenge for the ear or the intellect that the Britten presented, but perhaps more comely for the Christmas season. I liked this one very much, especially with its smooth sounding strings and the directness of the recorders.

This was also my first visit to All Saints Anglican Church in Ainslie. It's an interesting building with an interesting history. It originally served as a railway station for funeral trains at Sydney's Rookwood Cemetery. Funeral trains ended in the 1920s and the roof was finally taken by bushfire in the 1950s. Stan Taunton and son, Canberra builders, transferred the stones to Canberra, rebuilt the roof and it was dedicated in 1959. It's a lovely sandstone building featuring hewn sculpture, and it has a strange form to allow trains to enter at one end. So it's slightly odd in design and purpose and location, but humbly reminiscent of European mediaeval churches.

SCUNA performed Benjamin Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb and Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Messe de Minuit at the All Saints Anglican Church in Ainslie with conductor Matthew Stuckings and accompaniest Anthony Smith.