Supported by generous help from the Turnovsky Endowment Trust

Kapiti Chamber Choir with the Romantic Triangle: Brahms, Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann

By , 09/07/2017

Brahms: Motet – Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Mühseligen
Hungarian Dance WoO1/1
Liebeslieder Walzer, Op.52
Clara Schumann: Drei Gemischte Chöre
Robert Schumann: Requiem, Op.148

Kapiti Chamber Choir conducted by Eric Sidoti, with Jennifer Scarlet and Kay Cox (piano), Heather Easting (organ), Karyn Andreassend (soprano), Elisabeth Harris (mezzo), Jamie Young (tenor), Simon Christie (bass)

St. Paul’s Church, Paraparaumu

Sunday, 9 July 2017, 2.30pm

As I observed of the last Kapiti Chamber choir concert I reviewed  (three years ago), none of the choral items in the first half was an easy sing, and most  were unaccompanied.  Good observation of dynamics was a significant feature throughout the concert.  The items were sung in the original German language except the Requiem, which was in Latin.  English translations were printed in the programme.

Before the concert began, the  choir’s chairman paid tribute, this being its 25th jubilee year, to Paddy Nash, who, Lyall Perris said, had persuaded Professor Peter Godfrey to form the choir and conduct it.  Paddy had been an almost one-person administrator for a considerable period of the 25 years.

The first item was the first part only of Brahms’s motet.  Sung unaccompanied, it began with a good attack and spot-on intonation.  However, this happy situation did not last.  The motets of Brahms are difficult, with shifting tonalities and unexpected intervals. It was rather a lacrymose opener, talking about misery and those who ‘…are glad when they find the grave’.

Clara Schumann’s Three Mixed Voice Choruses (Abendfeier in Venedig; Vorwärts; Gondoliera) were composed as a surprise gift for her husband Robert on his 38th birthday. They were being sung for the first time in New Zealand, according to conductor Eric Sidoti’s introductory remarks.  Though they were written in 1848, they were unpublished until 1989.  They too were unaccompanied.  The words of the first two, and translation of the third (from the English of Thomas Moore) were by Emanuel von Geibel.  It is less than two weeks since I reviewed a concert in which the poet’s songs translated from the Spanish set by Robert Schumann were performed.

The first was ‘Abendfeir in Venedig’ (Evening in Venice). The singing revealed lovely tone at the opening, especially from the sopranos and the male voice parts, in piano and pianissimo singing.  However, the blend among the altos was not so good, with one strident voice obvious at times.  Descending phrases sometimes fell too far.

The second song, ‘Vorwärts’ (Forward) was more jolly and faster than the first, and demonstrated the fine choral writing of the composer.  Here, attention to the words needed to be more precise than with the slower music; it was not always.

The tuning became more problematic in the third song, ‘Gondoliera’, which was a pity, for this lovely love song.

Brahms’s Hungarian Dances are well-known, and usually heard in their orchestral versions.  However, they were originally written as piano duets, and that is how we heard the first one today.  (I played another of the set in this form in my teenage years.)  The duettists performed it very competently, and in perfect accord with each other.  The character of the gypsy dance was well conveyed.

The same composer’s Liebeslieder Walzer are a collection of love songs in folk-song style.  I have never heard the whole set of 18 Op. 52 songs performed together before.  Here again, the piano duettists were absolutely splendid.

I believe that programme notes taken straight from Google should be acknowledged.  Yes, if they are from Wikipedia copyright is not a problem, though some online sources are copyright.  But they should have been acknowledged especially when the printed piece is word-for word from the original source.

The first of the 18 songs of the Liebeslieder Walzer was ‘Abendfeir in Venedig’ (Evening in Venice). The men needed a little more clarity, and accuracy in singing intervals.  The third song was about women ‘…how they melt one with bliss!’.  It was a fine duet from Jamie Young and Simon Christie, although it lacked some of the lightness implied by the words “I would have become a monk long ago if it were not for women!’

The women soloists followed; their voices were well matched; dynamics were excellent, and the men’s tone was good when they joined in.

One of the songs with which I was familiar, was about a small, pretty bird.  Tenors opened each verse, a little weakly, then the excellent basses joined in.

After a delightful solo from Karyn Andreassend, the choir returned with a lovely song in a swinging folk-song rhythm, ‘When your eyes look at me’.

The song to the locksmith was a great exclamation, about locking up evil mouths.  Men had their turn (with Simon Christie helping out in the choir here, and in some other songs), in a brief song about the waves and the moon.  It was admirable that the choir endeavoured to express a different character for each song.

Perhaps singing the entire set was a strain on the concentration – not all the songs command attention.  Nevertheless, it was a splendid effort.

Schumann’s Requiem is problematical.  Why is it almost never performed?  The answer is apparent in the music.  It has not the variety of musical expression or invention of those great Requiems that are performed regularly: those by Mozart, Brahms, Fauré, Dvořák, Verdi, Bruckner, or more recently, John Rutter.  Its dreary ambience is little relieved, in the way that those of the other composers is.  Although written in 1852, towards the end of the composer’s fore-shortened life, it was not published for some years, edited by his widow, Clara.

It is scored for orchestra, but some recordings exist with piano accompaniment; here we had a digital organ; it was a pity not to have a pipe organ available to give fuller tones and more nearly approximate orchestral sound.  Nevertheless, Heather Easting did a superb job, and it was notable how much more accurately the choir sang with a strong accompaniment.

A slow, subdued entry introduced the hymn-like ‘Requiem Aeternam’.  It was effective, despite its rather restricted harmonic language.  By contrast, ‘Te Decet Hymnus’ was declamatory, and utilised both the splendid soloists and the choir.  This was strong singing.  The ‘Dies Irae’ was solemn and grand, and featured much chromatic writing, and similar chords on the organ.

‘Liber Scriptus’ began with the choir, then the soloists entered one by one. Here, their voices really shone; a very fine performance from all four.  ‘Qui Mariam’ Featured excellent singing from the choir, and particularly from soloist Elisabeth Harris.  The movement ended with gorgeous quiet singing from the choir ‘…dona eis requiem’.

Declamation returned with ‘Domine Jesu Christe’, then Karyn Andreassend and Elisabeth Harris plus choir sang ‘Hostias’.  I couldn’t help but think of the wonderful ‘Hostias’ in Mozart’s work: so full of exaltation, positivity and musical invention.  Here again the choir showed admirable variation of dynamics, giving the music interest.

The final movement, ‘Benedictus and Agnus Dei’ started interestingly with the quartet of soloists unaccompanied, and organ chords in between their phrases; the final lines were grand and portentous.

Summing up: the work was tedious in places and lacking in musical invention.  However, soloists and choir made the best of it, and mostly succeeded in providing a good performance.

 

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