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Guitar Dreaming: Australian Music for Guitar (and Beyond)

WAAPA staff and students

Spectrum Project Space, Beaufort Street, Northbridge

September 2009

reviewed by Stuart Hille

l to r: Sidney Brien, Brendan Biddiss, Courtney Hilton

photo: Jacqueline Auty
leubbers 01

The actual space of Spectrum Project Space, for a concert audience, is very small, completely unadorned and has an ambience which relies wholly on the mood the listener brings.  It is much akin to ‘burrows’, still found in Manhattan, where groups cluster  to hear aleatoric music performances, and where listeners are encouraged to move around the players as if taking part in a sonic, glyptic exercise.  However, when one has no option but to find (and I impress ‘find’) seating, as on this occasion, the dynamics and sense of freedom change.  The players might be within half a meter of the first row of listeners but a barrier is drawn nonetheless.  And that barrier affords the ear to pick up all sorts of surrounding sounds – the desirable and not so desirable: the cars  outside, strings not quite in tune, musical lines which start but then break, musical shapes which are either rounded or lack definition…whatever the sound, when we’re seated we hear it more acutely.

This concert, titled ‘Guitar Dreaming’ (and, I hope judiciously, I’m not going to discuss the word choice) contained many promising features and a portion of disappointments.  It also had a couple of surprises, one of which was the realisation of how quickly guitars can lose their tuning, assuming they are correctly tuned to begin the performance (which wasn’t always the case on the night).  This was made even more potent by the limited space of the auditorium.  String tuning is a notorious problem in any concert.  I think it was John Exton who once summed up the inherent difficulty: “There’s only thing worse than two violins, and that’s three violins”.  Violins only have four strings whereas guitars have six, so whenever like instruments are multiplied it is essential to maintain vigilance in tuning.  Then there is the additional problem of intuiting how long it should take to tune or re-tune on stage, before the audience begins to shuffle with impatience.  What’s the solution?  I don’t know, but I observe professionals, like Jonathan Paget (the principal force behind this concert), are able to tune up much faster and more accurately than students.  Perhaps tuning should be made more of a rigorous exercise within the guitar pupil’s panoply of technical armour.

Another surprising aspect of the concert was the choice of the opening item.  Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with an introspective style to raise the curtain, so to speak, nor was there anything seriously amiss with Melissa Branson’s sensitive reading of a reasonably proportioned composition, titled ‘Distant Mirages’, by Jeremy Poole-Johnson.  However, given the features of the space, including a perceived hesitation getting the concert started, a more robust and confidently styled lead-off might have made a better choice.

But perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of the concert was unwittingly exposed by Thea Rossen (a UWA percussion student) in her decision to perform ‘Marimba Dances’ (1 and 2) by Ross Edwards.  This music plays to the gallery like few others.  Quite frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear its Madagascan strains pumping through the speakers of an elevator one day!  Aurally judged, it has strong   similarities to his ‘Laikan’, written some three years prior for the ‘Fires of London’ (under the direction of Peter Maxwell-Davies), except in these ‘dances’, notably the first, things have been trimmed down to the tonal bones.  So of all the works Rossen could have chosen, including something by a UWA student composer, it was disheartening to find her making this her prime option.  Additionally, with recorded performances by, for example, no lesser an artist as Evelyn Glennie, she faced the uneviable task of attempting to shed new light on a latter day warhorse.  Rossen’s reading was proficient and tidy, although somewhat over-stylised in gesture.  But no matter how neat the performance, one became overwhelmed by a sense of a wasted opportunity for some young composer.  And there is a lesson here for student percussionists: ‘hot off the press’ writing by contemporary composers, with something interesting to say, may not become their bread-and-butter  but will provide some of the most fulfilling experiences they will have.  A performer shouldn’t be turning his/her back on this at such a young age.

Similar to Edward’s ‘Marimba Dances’, Westlake’s ‘Six Fishes’, at least judging by the three ‘fish’ performed, flamboyantly declared its quasi-tonal affiliations.  However, Westlake is more cloying in his choice of gestures, and more ostentatious in style and rhythm.  Also, despite what many might assume, and despite an apparent subjection to linearity, this music reveals little sense of processive harmony, particularly long-range harmonic relationships.  Consequently, the ‘Plectrum Alpha’ (Jonathan Paget, Brendan Biddiss, Melissa Branson and Claire Bonner) could have been partially forgiven if their performance had been somewhat lacklustre.  And yet, as is – depressingly – so often the case, they showed good rapport and a relaxed, comfortable approach.  The tuning was good and the eye contact was excellent.

Plectrum Alpha’s second appearance, later in the concert, was in a performance of a composition by one their own: Claire Bonner’s ‘Hope Cottage’.  One was grateful for the spoken introduction by the composer (an excellent prelude to any performance, the sustained practise of which in this concert is to be commended) and the sincerity of her sentiments.  However, this music needs to be considered, at best, to be a draft because it is painfully, stylistically ambiguous, rhythmically unadventurous and, most importantly, shows little grasp of quartet thinking.

Yet one can’t honestly lay the blame for these compositional weaknesses at the feet of the composer.  The genuineness of the expression was enough to tell the informed listener she did her best with the creative technical tools at her disposal.  One can say, however, that the hardware –  (in this case) modern counterpoint, functional harmony, rhythmic/motivic variation, and style studies – need to be more carefully introduced and developed so they become part of her consciousness.  Intuitive dabbling is fine, laudable, and can yield very interesting results, but a satisfying artistic product is only possible when intuition and learned discipline or skill are hand in hand.

And after listening to the works of the other student composers on the program – Gareth Koch, Chris Kotchie and Jeremy Poole-Johnson – these same observations, generally, held true.  Clearly though, each writer focussed on different aspects – according to his personality.  Kotchie’s ‘Autumn’ (where, by the way, the instrument should have better tuned) nicely established a background mood but the painting on the canvas had disconcerting textural breaks and a barely identifiable harmonic discourse.  But again,  as we found in Bonner’s work, the sentiment was earnest and for that, one was grateful.  It was the lack of craftsmanship that was the central problem.  With the right inculcation, I’m sure he will emerge as an interesting creator.  Koch’s “Walls of Jerusalem” needed a strong, decisive stroke to be suddenly hurtled, Jackson Pollock style, across its wary and insular landscape.  A more confident approach by the performer, Claire Bonner, might have helped on this occasion.  But the composition, from its early stages of creation, needed better overseeing so the ideas could be reorganised and shaped with a greater sense of purpose.  As mentioned, Poole-Johnson’s sense of climax placement gave his writing some dynamic balance but the weaving of individual strands, upon which the climaxes rely, required a stronger knowledge of linear development (pitch and rhythm) so the listener’s aural perception could find a convincing musical discourse.

The other more established composers on the program – Philip Houghton and Richard Charlton – were presented, on the whole, with with adequate proficiency and stylistic insight.  If the listener had problems grasping the unity of composition + performance they laid mostly within the compositions.  One of these, probably the most important because of its potential for negative influence on student composers, was the use of colouristic gesture without any sort of context.

The guitar, so it seems, has the ability to produce many such ornaments but problems wade in when the composer breaks the line for no reason other than to insert a gesture.  If he wants the gesture to have  raison d’etre then he needs to make this aurally perceptible.  In other words: it should be heard to develop in an interesting way.  Otherwise, he should use the gesture as a splash of colour and nothing more (exactly like an eighteenth century ornament).  Houghton, arguably, more controlled in this respect but there were some passages, nevertheless, such as in his ‘Brolga’ (performed by Jonathan Paget and Craig Lake), where lines, disagreeably modal/tonal as they were, were supplanted by gestures.  The result, nicely highlighted by the excellence of the performance, was colour on colour…and the listener is left wondering: “What happened to that line I heard?  Where did it go?”.

Charlton’s ‘Legend of Fire’, well executed by Courtney Hilton, highlighted the same polarisation, except here it became increasingly difficult to distinguish between what was line and what was ornament.  A less than decisive performance by the ‘Plectrum Ensemble’ and percussionist Thea Rossen of two movements from Charlton’s ‘Three Distractions’ was sufficient enough to convey the notion that the compositional writing was very odd.  At odds with itself, is perhaps more accurate.  One appreciates the circumstances under which it was written, and the difficulties scouring the Australian ‘contemporary’ repertoire to find something tailored to fit the ensemble.  But this wasn’t the answer.  Moreover, given the fact that there were nine guitarists, the texture was far less rich than it could have been, had the composer thought more in terms of counterpoint.

So if the answer wasn’t ‘Three Distractions’ then, to me, the obvious choice would have been to get one the student composers to come up with a closing fanfare.  Perhaps a semi-aleatoric concept?  In fact, guided improvisation with adequate rehearsal, so to speak, could have created something quite magical.  All the players have talent, rapport and, one assumes, imagination, so why not harvest and combine these qualities?  All it would have required was a composer’s bright idea and a willingness to experiment, and, of course, a solid background in improvisation.  And this causes one to note a few final thoughts.

With the encirclement of the limited space of the venue, the critic was confronted with having to make some firm decisions.  Where the student composers need to focus attention has been discussed already: coming to grips with essential technical aspects in the learning of their craft, but not losing sincerity or naturalness.  In a sense, both the young performers and the young composers need also to have a greater awareness of the hierarchical nature of music and which of these hierarchies they wish to project in either performance or composition.  Few will either have or develop the in-built, intuitive feel for hierarchy displayed by Jonathan Paget, their instrumental teacher at ECU, but they can learn, through linear analysis, to shape their statements more persuasively.  Such questions as: ‘Where is the principal climax? What and where are the subsidiary

climaxes leading to it – on the same hierarchical level? What is process? What is closure? How does this affect tempo and the use of rubato?’, need to be asked and resolved, and always done so on the same hierarchy.

Many touring professional performers, be they pianists or violinists or guitarists or whatever, present renditions that are (increasingly) digital masterstrokes, but, because of a confusion of hierarchies, their readings remain in the shallower waters of interpretation.  Now is the time for student composers and performers (remembering that finesse is as much a part of composition as it is of performance) to recognise and avoid this duality – digital expertise/illustrative unity – before they, too, become part of the roundabout.



 Presented by Festival Baroque Australia

                                                Perth Town Hall

  reviewed by Stuart Hille                                              

Soloists: Sara Macliver (soprano), Catherine Jones (cello), Leanne Sullivan (baroque trumpet).


Sara Macliver

Sara Macliver

With:  Julia Fredersdorff (violin), Giulia Panzeri (violin), Katherine Corecig (viola), Sophie Walker (cello), Tommie Andersson (theorbo), Stewart Smith (continuo).



photo credit-  Frances Andrijch



To preface this critique of the Concerto Paradiso I’d like to draw upon an anecdote of an occasion during which I presented a pre-performance talk to one of the ABC’s ‘Mostly Mozart’ concerts.  I wished to stress to the audience, Mozart’s uniqueness by comparing his Symphony no.38 (‘Prague’) to an orchestral suite by one of his contemporaries: Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, both of which we had heard in the previous concert.  The suite was a benign, orderly affair and displayed the utmost in practicality or workmanship.  It certainly wasn’t remarkable.  Dittersdorf’s was a fashion-conscious, hermetically sealed world.  A few seconds later, the ‘Prague’ began and immediately, as I recounted to the audience, the heavens suddenly opened and rays of genius pierced the mediocrity.

I mention this occasion for two reasons.  The first of these relates to the fact that nearly all the items on the Concerto Paradiso program were, it their own ways, equivalents of Dittersdorf’s orchestral suite: innocuous, verging on a trifle dull but always very functional.  Each composer had clear command of figured bass and contrapunctus – all a composer really needed in the era of the baroque.  But there was one work – a Handel aria from ‘Alcina’ – that, like Mozart’s ‘Prague’ symphony, transported the listener to an entirely different world.  It’s akin, I imagine, to casting a spell: we lean forward because we strain to catch every musical strand, we watch carefully in order not to miss a gesture, and our listening suddenly becomes far more acute and sensitive.  And we then realise that the baroque period, like the classical, was hugely populated by functional and capable writers; but in every generation, or its equivalent, a creative beacon illuminates the minds of people, not simply entertains them.  



The second reason relates to the way in which the performers respond to such an occurrence.  Their reaction, it would seem, is entirely instinctive.  In Handel’s aria, the featured soloists – Sara Macliver and Catherine Jones – answered in a fashion that was quite breath-taking in its sensitivity, poise and accuracy.  Moreover, the small accompanying ensemble (including the omnipresent Stewart Smith) demonstrated beautifully balanced rapport.  They picked up and embellished any small melodic gestures in an attempt to nurture the music even more.  This rendition had the imprint of class and lambency.  Macliver’s ability to just ‘touch’ high notes (the placement of which, I should add, lifts this piece out of the ordinary) was most gratifying because it seemed effortless.

Initially, one questioned the need for a solo cello but as soon as the rendition began, the reasoning became apparent.  The cello has the capacity to not only combine with the soprano voice but also to extend its range.  Again, this shows Handel thinking beyond rigid, set definitions used by his contemporaries.  The piece isn’t a duet but an aria which is allowed to blossom in its registral breadth.

Catherine Jones was the very essence of baroque utilitarianism throughout the concert: at one moment she would become soloist (most notably in Vivaldi’s ‘Sonata no.6 in Bflat RV47’…a disappointing composition) and at another she would immediately join the accompanying ensemble.  One assumes this was a common baroque practice.  Requiring the musician to be as versatile as possible makes abundant financial and artistic sense.

Jones performs on a loaned Gagliano cello (1770) which has a richly honeyed and mellow timbre.  In fact it is so creamy in tone that its voice can easily become obscured by other instruments.  Indeed, there were a couple of areas in Leonardo Leo’s ‘Cello Concerto in Dminor’ when, despite the soloist’s obvious rapport with the instrument and her technical skill with baroque performance, her sound became engulfed by the general texture (which was very modest).  Even the Perth Town Hall’s nicely balanced but ‘shiny’ acoustics couldn’t ameliorate a situation that is the result of an instrument that ‘speaks’ uniquely.  This Gagliano cello is a true solo instrument in that it doesn’t like to share attention.

Having said that, it should be added quickly that Jones has all the indicators of considerable prominence.  Her bowing is decisive, and her pitch and dynamic control are solid and reliable.  Clearly, as her biographical details indicate, she has chosen the ‘niche’ of baroque performance.  Her style and approach will become more rounded and her digital skill better sublimated as she continues to mature as an artist in this field.  Given the nature of the instrument she plays, and taking into consideration her prowess, one feels she could be better assessed in a performance of one of the Bach solo cello suites.  These works test a player’s artistry and skill at the ultimate level.




Another soloist featured on the program was baroque trumpeter Leanne Sullivan.  A baroque trumpet is a natural (valveless) instrument used in period performance.  One couldn’t tell whether Sullivan performed on a totally natural trumpet or on one of the slightly vented instruments.  Whatever the case, she demonstrated, with only a couple of minor exceptions, fine ‘lip’ control (natural trumpets, reliant solely on the harmonic series, need to be literally ‘lipped’ into tune on certain partials). 

When Sullivan had the opportunity, as she did in Torelli’s ‘Concerto in D’ and Cazzati’s ‘Sonata a 5 op.35 no.11’, to display her developing skills, she so clearly relished the moment.  Hers is the sound which most readily evokes the grandeur and restraint of the baroque.  Sullivan also showed her talent to blend with the voice (Sara Macliver) in Scarlatti’s ‘Mio Tesoro per te moro’ and ‘Rompe Sprezza’.  Together, the two soloists displayed superlative concord, based on finely judged dynamic balance.  Moreover, their interpretation was further enhanced by a lovely reciprocity with the continuo, cello and theorbo (Tommie Andersson).  The final section was a true Alessandro Scarlatti quirk: so brief as to be finished before the mind has registered it has begun!

Mentioning the theorbo, one feels some regret the program couldn’t accommodate a work featuring lute solo.  The theorbo (a large lute with a doubling of strings) is an accompanying instrument which, as Andersson sensitively revealed, serves its purpose beautifully in the gentle baroque fabric.  But, given Andersson’s expertise, it seemed a pity not to be able to hear him as a featured solo artist.  On this occasion that wasn’t to be but both Andersson and Smith, as they showed so consistently throughout the concert, gave every item solid and ever-sensitive harmonic bedrock. 

Similarly, the other (primarily) accompanying instrumentalists show staunch harmonic support and neatly crafted interweaving.  However, Julia Fredersdorff and Giulia Panzeri (violins) appeared to be particularly absorbed by constant tuning.  One can hardly complain because their intention was purely musically based.  Nevertheless, I can’t recall another concert where there was so much tuning up of strings prior to movements being preformed, baroque or otherwise.  The custom almost became an addiction and soon included violist Katherine Corecig, cellist Sophie Walker and Andersson on the theorbo.  This causes one to wonder if there is any clear evidence that feverish tuning was a common practice during the period.  My guess would be that no such proof exists and that the procedure is more a result of our modern day preoccupation with precision.  Even Ms Macliver felt it necessary to make a short aside to the audience to this effect.  She was, after all, waiting for the frenetic buzz of tuning and re-tuning to be resolved, as was the audience, so she could begin singing!   




Indeed, Macliver, after such a superb account of the Handel aria, deserved more than one of the bouquets handed out after the encore.  As much as it was to every one of the musician’s credit, it was her gentle unfolding of the music that lifted this concert into a sphere above most.  This program showed how the creative thinking of one genius can not only affect music history but it can also influence an entire concert’s complexion when placed in the context of his contemporaries.

Stuart Hille 2009.




Mass in B minor: J.S.Bach

Burhan Guner

Burhan Guner


U.W.A. Choral Society

Burhan Guner: conductor

Katja Webb (soprano), Sarah-Janet Dougiamas (mezzo), Roberto Abate (tenor) and Robert Hofmann (bass)

Winthrop Hall


reviewed by Stuart Hille

There are many sections of Bach’s ‘Mass in B minor’ which radiate unique inspiration and a masterful handling of the technique required to evoke and develop it.  So much of the ‘Symbolum Nicenum’ (Credo), as an extended example, has an incandescence and spiritual profundity rarely attained by other composers.  But then there are other tracts of the Mass, particularly in the ‘Gloria’ (containing nine separate divisions), where one perceives a relative lassitude in the presentation and unfolding of ideas.  Perhaps these ‘weaker’ moments – remembering we are discussing ‘weakness’  at the masterpiece level – result from Bach’s habit, born of necessity, of reusing material.  One can always assume this to be a standard practice in his larger works.  He used material from past works in present works and he reused material from present works in future works.  This is certainly the case in the ‘Gloria’ where one is all too aware of hearing something one has heard before, probably in a cantata.  So what is the cumulative effect of a merger of the strikingly original and the annexed?

There isn’t one: either the writing is brilliant, good or mediocre…for J.S.Bach.  This Mass contains it all.  Besides, one doesn’t get to sixty five years of age, marry twice, raise twenty children on a musician’s salary, travel and then compose vast amounts of music, often in great haste, without ‘borrowing’ and reworking old material!  Composers have done this throughout history but Bach, due to his eminence within the firmament of great composers and therefore subject to greater scrutiny, makes it more obvious.

Yet not only do a large number of musicologists describe the Mass in B minor as “sublime” or “supreme” but this determination has also become a part of the general collective thinking.  Perhaps it would be more practical to describe the work as a collection of the sublime, the good and the purely utilitarian, bordering on prosaic (and written over a substantial period of time).  In a quirky fashion, it is the variety of creative fashioning which makes the music even richer.

The ways in which the music is held together should have little to do with the performance of it.  They are, in a very real sense, separate considerations, although, it must be said, that the better the performance of a poorly written work, the more noticeable its flaws become.  On this occasion the UWA Choral Society’s reading was courageous though sometimes uneven.  While there were some areas where the singing deserved high praise for its clarity of line and balance of harmony, there were others which were less successful because of inaccuracies in exact pitching and a blurring of the contrapuntal texture (inexact rhythmic definition).

The opening of the Kyrie asserted its presence with a stamp of authority.  Through dynamic strength, inner balance, nicely rounded phrases and a comfortable tempo, one’s sense of positive anticipation was wakened.  This was indeed a bold statement.  But there were a few worrying signs: the sopranos pitching of high notes and the tenors and basses pitching of lower notes.  However at this stage, these were not sufficient to cause anything more than a ruffle in the texture.

By the time the duet ‘Christe eleison’, sung by Katja Webb (soprano) and Sarah-Janet Dougiamas (mezzo), had concluded, the previous choral concerns seemed to be forgotten.  This is probably due to Webb’s good rhythmic clarity and accuracy of pitch, and Dougiamas’s full, rich tone (although it could have been projected with slightly more penetration).  As a unity they formed a convincing exchange, a well poised reciprocity.

With the second ‘Kyrie eleison’ the balanced give-and-take shown by the vocal soloists (above) was not mirrored by the choir.  Concerns began to resurface.  After such a clear and spirited opening to the Mass, the four sections now seemed more intent upon displaying divisional prominence rather than working towards an overall unity of sound.  Consequently, the counterpoint, which is always reliant on balance, became muddied – blurred by singers more concerned with allegiance to the division rather than to the whole.  One could see Burhan Guner (conductor), while keeping a firm grasp on the tempo, was attempting to tone down the sopranos and basses.  If he could detect unevenness in the fabric while being so close to the action, it requires little imagination to sense how it sounded at the rear of Winthrop Hall.  Even experienced choristers, such as these, need to be reminded, from time to time, there is no place for divisional ‘egos’, if one can put it that way, in contrapuntal singing.

In the Gloria, taken as a whole, these difficulties of balance and pitch didn’t vanish but became less assertive.  Some of the places within this beautifully symmetrical architecture – the spirited trumpet in ‘Gloria in excelsis’ and the very fine texture of the ‘Laudamus te’ – were like scarabs in the design.  Yet there were other places where new problems were exposed.


The most significant of these, shown in both the ‘Et in terra pax’ and the ‘Gratias agimus tibi’, was a growing tendency, throughout the choir but most notably in the sopranos, to be too casual with ‘gap-fills’ (the string of smaller notes between more prominent notes in the melodic line).  These needed to be better articulated, through awareness of breath control, without becoming exaggerated.  However, when the line is too relaxed, as it was on this occasion, the prominent notes become altogether too conspicuous.  Similarly, the ‘Cum sancto spiritu’, although well paced and better pitched, was uneven in its flow because the gap-filling was somewhat perfunctory. 

  The Gloria also allowed the soloists greater prominence.  It is curious to note that Bach only introduces the tenor as a true soloist towards the conclusion of the entire composition.  We first hear him (Roberto Abate, in this performance) in duet with the soprano.  His melodic line, at this point in the work, seems more utilitarian than florid, so Abate was put at somewhat of a psychological disadvantage as soon as he sang his first notes.  Not surprisingly, therefore, he and Webb didn’t quite ‘knit’ their respective parts into a persuasive duet.  This is unfortunate because both singers have vocal qualities.  They both displayed excellent pitch control and good penetration.  Their duet – ‘Domine Deus’ – is placed at the core of the Gloria’s frame, the central line of its equilibrium, yet Bach uses music from an earlier cantata and does so in a rather matter-of-fact manner.  Whether this, in any way, explains the business-like nature of the tenor’s part, I can’t say.

The bass soloist (Robert Hofmann) was first heard in the ‘Quoniam tu solus sanctus’, the penultimate section of the Gloria.  One was immediately struck by the clarity of his diction (and that’s quite a rare compliment to pay a singer).  In purely musical terms, he showed an evenness of timbre throughout his range, a most desirable quality in sacred vocal music, although his penetration could have more incisive.  Also, while his pitch accuracy is to be commended, he projects the notes with a little more breath than they warrant.  The horn (corno da caccia) was deftly handled in this rendition and formed a nice discourse with the bass voice.

The ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’, which closes the Gloria, yielded some good details in the choral parts.  As a unity, they functioned with greater accord here and the two soprano lines (remembering Bach ‘splits’ the choir into four, five, six or eight parts at various stages throughout the work) touched their high notes with pleasing precision and just the correct degree of force.  But elsewhere there were problems afoot.

One always hesitates before mentioning troubling features within the male vocal parts because, quite frankly, good tenors and basses are far from aplenty.  The UWA Coral Society’s male singers are, generally, proficient and very effusive.  They form the bedrock of the harmony and they do this well.  Notwithstanding, several times during their performance they showed a lack of precision or definition in terms of rhythm.  In the first item of the Credo, for example, they were noticeably lacking internal cohesion.

This was to an extent that one could have sworn some of their numbers had been caught off-guard.  In other words, some appeared to enter correctly and some didn’t.  Fortunately the sound settled with better rhythmic bonding as the second half progressed but the seeds of uncertainty had been sown.

A great deal depends on the register of the first note of entry: the higher the entry, the more likely problems will ensue in the tenors (who have an almost universal tendency to ‘fudge’ pitches in their higher register anyway).  And although it wasn’t substantially manifest in the ‘Et incarnatus est’, both tenors and altos were tentative in their entry and unfolding.  With everything having its equal and opposite, the male vocal parts were beautifully negotiated in the ‘Confiteor’ (Confess).  It’s in sections where everything seems secure that one is reminded of those areas where they were not…and to question why there’s a difference.

The only other word of caution one could offer the choir, after hearing its performance of the ‘Sanctus” and ’Hosanna’, both of which are swift-footed, is to not overexpose the beat.  In the ‘Hosanna’ there are relatively long passages based on single syllables so the natural inflection of words can’t be used as a steadying factor.  But in their effort to sustain the beat the choir strongly accented the first of every bar and the music lost its fluency at a time when it most needed it.  I’m not sure what Burhan Guner could have done, or even if there is such a gesture in the ‘conductors’ manual’, to reduce the accentuation of the beat.  I suppose the best any conductor can do is to remind the choir beforehand: “Think but don’t accent the beat, unless notated”.

Roberto Abate, nicely accompanied by flute obligato, was finally heard to full advantage in the ‘Benedictus’ and he rewarded our waiting with a performance which displayed a good sense of dynamic shaping, well controlled breathing, and a most pleasing and accurate sense of pitch.  In fact, all the soloists, at various points during the performance, brought these same qualities into focus. 

The closing ‘Dona nobis pacem’ uses the same music as the ‘Gratias agimus tibi’ from the Gloria (which is itself a remodelling of music taken from an earlier cantata).  The tempo here, though, is one of majesty and brilliance.  In its performance, the choir, very much to Guner’s credit, mirrored this beautifully.  It brought to a conclusion a most interesting and valorous account of one of the most challenging works of the repertoire.

NB. It would have given me much pleasure to mention the names of key instrumentalists, who presented their parts with poise and excellent baroque style, but having been denied a program booklet, despite asking twice, makes that impossible.