Kapiti choir’s farewell to Guy Jansen: Serenade to Music

Kapiti Chamber Choir’s Farewell to musical director Guy Jansen

Soloists: Janey MacKenzie, Linden Loader, Michael Gray, Roger Wilson and an orchestra, with Jonathan Berkahn – organ

Haydn: Te Deum; Bruckner: Ave Maria; Duruflé: ‘Kyrie’ from his Requiem; Debussy: ‘Dieu, qu’il la fait bon regarder’; Stravinsky: Pater Noster; Franz Biebl: Ave Maria; Vaughan Williams: Serenade to Music; Handel: three choruses from Messiah (‘Hallelujah’, ‘Worthy is the lamb’, ‘Amen’)

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 10 April, 2.30pm

Guy Jansen took up the post of musical director of the Kapiti Chamber Choir after founding conductor Peter Godfrey retired in 2007. Now, having become chairman of the New Zealand Choral Federation and becoming more involved in educational activities, he was giving his last concert with the choir.

The hall, which is designed basically for indoor sports, with a high roof, presents difficulties for music, though the recent construction of a recessed stage for chamber groups has been an improvement, at least for those near the players. But it was of no use to a 40-voice choir,  raised on benches, and a 28-piece orchestra, all on the floor; and it wasn’t helped by a curtain that covered the recess, absorbing some of the sound.

The concert opened with Haydn’s Te Deum, employing the orchestra. It comes from late in Haydn’s career, the period of the last half dozen masses. Though it’s not the equal of the best of those masses, the effects of careful rehearsal were evident and it was an arresting start to the concert. Even though one was grateful for the presence of an orchestra instead of an organ, it was the vocal part that was generally more polished and energetic than the orchestra: the brass instruments were not entirely integrated either with the strings or the choir.

In Bruckner’s Ave Maria, an a cappella piece that opened with women’s voices alone, the choir was spread, in groups, out across the full width of the hall, illuminating parts very nicely, and it offered the singers perhaps a better opportunity to shine.

Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem has become popular in recent decades, and it gave the choir the double opportunity – to demonstrate its skill in quasi-plainchant and in a 20th century French idiom; rather restrained at the start, the singers became more lively as it moved along.

One of Debussy’s three unaccompanied choral songs, ‘Dieu, qu’il la fait bon regarder’, might have seemed an odd choice, but it was Guy Jansen’s obvious aim to demonstrate his choir’s versatility. With careful French pronunciation, and conducted by Bridget O’Shanassy, the singing nevertheless showed quite understandable signs of intonation shakiness at certain moments, such was the choir’s conspicuous exposure in this difficult piece.

There was no let-up from the challenging music with Stravinsky’s Pater noster, a coldly powerful piece delivered without much dynamic variation; it had the character of chant in spite of its somewhat stark harmonies.

The conductor introduced the Ave Maria by Franz Biebl, an Austrian-born American composer, as his only composition to have found favour. Its melodic character was clear and the solo parts, beautifully sung by all three – soprano, tenor and bass (Janey MacKenzie, Michael Gray and Roger Wilson) – gave it interesting variety.

If there was some diffidence in the performances in the first half, Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music which opened the second, was a more striking demonstration of what they could do. The orchestra opened with very encouraging confidence and good ensemble, and the choir (the piece was originally for sixteen solo voices, but we heard the composer’s arrangement for four soloists and choir) sounded well rehearsed and filled with affection. Here, the soloists were occasionally a bit stretched, but all four, now including mezzo Linden Loader who sang the phrase from ‘Music! Hark!…’ comfortably with special warmth, were individually striking as well as integrating beautifully with the choir and the orchestra. The charming violin solo was beautifully handled by Sharon Callaghan.

The three choruses from Messiah were also vigorous and well sung, particularly the ‘Allelujah’ in which the audience was invited to join. As Guy Jansen stepped aside after long applause, baritone Rodney Macann came forward to sing a spiritual, unaccompanied apart from some gentle intoning from the choir, ostensibly a spontaneous gesture. It brought a very appropriate occasion to a nice conclusion.

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