Mozart, Brahms, Bruckner, and Rheinberger
Bach Choir of Wellington, conducted by Maaike Christie-Beekman, with Douglas Mews (organ and piano), Emma Sayers (piano), Nicola Holt (soprano), Jamie Young (tenor), Maaike Christie-Beekman (mezzo)
St. Andrew’s on The Terrace
Sunday, 17 September 2017, 3.00pm
Surely one of the functions of the NZ Choral Federation Wellington Region should be to have choral directors meet periodically to sort out compatible dates for concerts. I know this used to happen in Peter Godfrey’s day. Lately there has been a plethora of choral concerts. After two last night, it was not surprising that the audience this afternoon was a little lean. There was a choir performing on 13 August, yet another on 27 August, another on 2 September, another on 6 September, another on 10 September and there is to be another on 30 September, and yet another on 1 October, as well as the three this weekend. These are all different choirs. That is not counting Hutt Valley or Kapiti choirs.
The programme for today’s concert may not have had wide appeal, but it contained much that was attractive and worth hearing.
The concert began with Douglas Mews playing an organ Chorale Prelude ‘Herzliebster Jesu’ by Brahms (through which the choir stood). It is a little hard to think of a work based on this chorale without thinking of J.S. Bach’s splendid compositions on the same chorale. There was nothing wrong with Brahms’s version, but…
The same composer’s Geistliches Lied followed, his earliest accompanied choral work (Douglas Mews accompanied on the organ). The setting of the words was skilful and the choir sang it well, although the men’s tone was often not well supported, and even became ugly when singing forte.
Anton Bruckner’s beautiful motet Locus Iste from 1869 is a jewel of choral writing. The quiet singing here was lovely, the harmony well balanced and the total effect very fine. The composer’s less well-known Christus factus est (from 1994) followed. It was splendid, with excellent dynamic range and a gorgeous controlled ending.
Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901) is not a familiar name except perhaps to organists. His motet Abendlied, which he wrote at the age of 15, proved to be quite a demanding work, and suffered some lapses in intonation. His Angelus Domini was quite an ornate piece, but was performed well.
Mozart’s minor choral works are not often heard, so it was interesting to have his 1777 Alma Dei Creatoris on the programme. Nicola Holt and Jamie Young were soloists – and Maaike Christie-Beekman, who performed the feat of singing solo lines and then turning to the choir to conduct. The singing of all the soloists was extremely good in this bright piece. The choir exhibited impressive, well-balanced tone Douglas Mews accompanied on piano.
Rheinberger returned after the interval, with two unaccompanied motets. They revealed the choir’s excellent German pronunciation. Abendfriede was a beautifully calm piece, and the singers produced an appropriately calm and blended tone. In the second verse there was some louder singing – here the tone was better than loud singing in the early part of the programme. Verlust was another attractive piece, sung well.
A return to Brahms: three of his Hungarian Dances for piano duet: nos. 1, 3 and 6 – the last is perhaps the best known, particularly in its orchestrated version. Emma Sayers and Douglas Mews gave robust and most appealing performances of these, with their own touches, such as rubati, particularly in no.3 (allegretto) and a rousing end to no.6 (vivace).
From ethnic dances (although it has later been found that some were not based on folk themes) to Viennese waltzes: Brahms’s Liebeslieder Walzer, Opp. 52 and 65. It might have been better to have divided up the 18 songs and sung them interspersed with something else; although attractive, the 18 waltzes in succession were rather too many, and they palled a little. They were accompanied by piano duet, and one towards the end was a soprano solo while another was a tenor solo. Nicola Holt particularly has a rich, expressive voice; Jamie Young’s solo was fine.
The choir’s break during the Hungarian Dances seemed to have caused a slight slippage of intonation. This improved once the singers were warmed up again. A few songs were for either men’s voices or women’s voices only, and these were very pleasingly performed.
‘On the banks of the Danube’ (translated first line) was a delightful song of varied moods, while the next, ‘O how gently the stream’ was smooth and gentle. No.11, ‘No, there’s just no getting along with people’ was a lively expostulation, but its follower, exhorting a locksmith, was loud and a bit strident in the male departments.
Women only sang ‘The little bird…’ in a smooth and pleasant manner, while the men sang similarly in ‘See how clear the waves are’. The song about the nightingale had a most delightful accompaniment; indeed all the accompaniments throughout the cycle were lively and at the right level for the singers.
‘Love is a dark shaft’ was rather bumpy of rhythm, matching the troubled words, from a man who fell down the shaft. ‘The bushes are quivering’ was an appealing little song for the choir to end their concert on. It was beautifully performed. It was notable how accurate the timing was: the notes being separated by rests, but the choir was spot-on at each entry.
Perhaps the concert was a little like the curate’s egg – but mainly, he would have found the egg satisfactorily cooked.
A well-produced printed programme gave all the words and translations, and included the composers’ dates and those of the compositions.