Interesting if somewhat problematic concert at Futuna Chapel

Colours of Futuna: Looking Upwards

Music by Pergolesi, Handel and Rossini

Janey MacKenzie (soprano), Jody Orgias (mezzo), Douglas Mews (keyboard)

Futuna Chapel, Karori

Sunday, 21 October, 2pm

Part of a 14-week Sunday afternoon series of short concerts held in, and celebrating, John Scott’s beautiful chapel, this concert featured mainly sacred vocal music.

The series of concerts is an excellent way of both celebrating the architectural gem from the 1960s, that at one stage was threatened with demolition after the Society of Mary retreat centre on the site closed and the land was sold and developed, and of raising money for its maintenance.  It is a pity that the flyer giving information about the concerts gives an incorrect number in Friend Street.  There is excellent information on the Futuna Chapel website.  The chapel, opened in 1961, was obviously named after the Pacific island of Futuna, where the Marists had missionary work.

The venue is small and intimate, ideal for chamber music concerts of all types, and very resonant, with all its timber and hard surfaces.  This means that there is no difficulty in hearing instruments or singing; on this occasion the volume was at times almost overpowering.  There was a need for the singers to adjust their dynamics to the size and clear, intimate acoustics of the venue.  It is quite hard on the voices, since everything shows.

The singers gave excellent spoken introductions to their music, the first item of which was Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater of 1736, or rather, four movements from it.  Douglas Mews performed the accompaniment on a digital piano – a bit of a come-down perhaps for Pergolesi (and for Douglas Mews too), but probably the only option.

The first excerpt was a duet, ‘Sancta Mater, istud agas’, the next a soprano solo, ‘Cuius animam gementem’, the third a mezzo solo, ‘Eia Mater, fons amoris’, and the last also a duet, ‘Quando corpus moretur’.  The lachrymose mood of the Stabat Mater, and indeed of all the vocal items in the concert, I found rather depressing on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  Nevertheless, the singing was mostly fine, apart from the excessive volume at times, and an unattractive edge to Jody Orgias’s voice in the higher register.  At the lower part of her range, her voice is rich and powerful – although at times a bit too powerful for her partner’s tone to come through.

We then moved to Handel, and his operas Orlando and Giulio Cesare.  The opening duet was from Orlando, while the solo ‘Piangero’ (yet more weeping and mourning), was from Giulio Cesare, as were the following two items.  These found Janey MacKenzie in good voice; Jody Orgias showed her flexibility and mastery of the music – and how deep she could sing – in ‘Va tacito’.  The duet ‘Son nata a lagrimar (there it is again!) was very effective, affecting and dramatically sung.

In between, Douglas Mews played the well-known Harmonious Blacksmith variations, which were well-suited to the instrument, and gave a pleasingly familiar and cheerful interlude.  I haven’t heard them played for years, though they used to be one of my ‘party pieces’.  Unfortunately, the piece demonstrated that the instrument was not evenly voiced, the notes in the middle register being stronger and more insistent.  This characteristic became rather tiresome.  Nevertheless, the playing was very expressive.

Now for something completely different – or was it?  We moved forward 100 years to Rossini, and his bouncy, operatic style of music.  It was still the woes of the sinners, and Mary’s pain, but in a much changed mode of expression  The Pergolesi and the Handel tolerated the keyboard accompaniment, the harpsichord that they would have used (along with other instruments) not being so very resonant.  However, the Rossini certainly missed the orchestra, or at least a grand piano, since the digital keyboard lacked the resonance necessary to reproduce the orchestral music of Rossini’s operatic style adequately.

The ‘Quis es homo’ from Rossini’s Stabat Mater and ‘Qui Tollis’ from his Petite Messe Solennelle, a late work, were operatic in character, and the duets were sung well, with complete cohesion, apart from some volume imbalance between the parts in ‘Qui Tollis’.

The two movements were separated (or joined?) by the Offertory, played by Douglas Mews.  Rossini’s first version calls for a harmonium, while in the second it is set for full orchestra.  Thus, a tall order either way, but it was appealingly played

The concert, therefore, had an ecclesiastical environment and content; the other ecclesiastical feature was the curate’s egg.


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