A joyous celebration of hope and determination

By Jennifer Gall (Canberra Times)

The whole point of creating music with other people, so the great Irish musician Kevin Burke has remarked, is "to make a joyful noise" and this is indeed was the sound acheived by the ANU Choral Society, their chamber orchestra and their soloists. In the structure of the program, the repertoire celebrated Mary as the Mother of Jesus, contemplated Mary's suffering and during Christ's crucifixion and finally, in Vivaldi's Gloria, rejoiced at the resurrection and God's renewal of life out of destruction.

A spirit of determination and hope permeated the opening performance of Gorecki's Totus Tuus, a work written in 1987 in hopes that Poland would regain full connections with the Roman Catholic Church. In the program notes, Polish choir member Dorota Janiszewska explained that in performing the Gorecki mass in June 1987 in Warsaw, this was overt acknowledgement of Pope John Paul's personal consecration to the Virgin Mary, Patron Saint of Poland.

Processing from the rear of the cathedral, the choristers created a wonderful acoustic effect of tidal voices transforming the expectant silence into a space vibrating with melancholy beauty.

Pergolesi's Stabat Mater is a remarkable piece of music which represents not just Mary's suffering, but also the wider, common experience of grief. Louise Page brought gravity and warmth to the soprano solo, her expressive voice filling the cathedral effortlessly. The contrast with Tobias Cole's solo voice also made for very satisfying duets, with the two voices retaining their definition.

Vivaldi's Gloria - the popular one, as musical director Jonathan Powles was quick to reassure the audience - was a perfect counterfoil to the somber theme of the first half. Powles reminded us that the work had been composed for the illegitimate children of the Venetian aristocracy, and mused on the opportunity these children had experienced to perform such joyous music under the baton of the composer himself. Indeed, the choir was more energised and focused for Gloria, with a strong crisp attack and sustained phrasing.

Page again made the solos her own, projecting a sense of great divine benevolence.

Coles' ornamentation was precise and captivating. The opening phrase of his Domine Deus was breathtaking. I wonder if he was perhaps pushing his voice a little too hard trying to project.

It was difficult to resist singing along with the triumphant Cum Sancto Spiritu - an indication that the musicians had done their job well and drawn the audience into Vivaldi's embrace for the conclusion.