Crown Law Presents: Counsel in Concert: Musical Anniversaries; in aid of the Child Cancer Foundation
Items by Monteverdi, Telemann, Haydn, Gershwin, The Beatles
Lawyers’ choir and orchestra, with soloists. Conducted by Owen Clarke
St. Andrew’s on The Terrace
Tuesday, 19 November 2017, (12.15pm); 5.30pm
It was heartening to see such a large bunch of lawyers who enjoy making music – and the large, mainly young audience who came to hear their second performance. The 38-strong orchestra included some 21 players from the NZSO and Orchestra Wellington, but only one lawyer – the indefatigable Merran Cooke, who rehearses the performers and organised the concert. The choir consisted of 53 singers.
The composers selected were a heterogeneous bunch, chosen for their anniversaries this year. The programme notes gave details: 450 years since the birth of Monteverdi, 250 years since the death of Telemann, 250 years since the composition of Haydn’s ‘Stabat Mater’, 80 years since the death of Gershwin and 50 years since The Beatles’ ‘Sergeant Pepper’ album.
The first item, which included a harpsichord continuo, was the opening movement from Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610: ‘Deus in adjutorium’. Those opening words are intoned in plainchant, followed by the magnificent ‘Domine…’ from choir and orchestra, each part singing on its own single note for a couple of pages. The heightened drama of this effect is resolved in triumphant fashion when all parts shift on the word ‘Alleluia’. It was a very effective performance, even if the splendid brass almost drowned out the choir at times. It made a great opening for the concert.
Next was a welcome from the Solicitor-General, Una Jagose. She spoke of the health and social benefits of making music in groups. Telemann’s Der Tag des Gerichts, or The Day of Judgement (appropriate for legal professionals to perform). Two choruses from this religious work were given: ‘Schallt ihr hohen Jubellieder’ and ‘Die rechte des herrn’. Only a slight knowledge of the German language is needed to deduce that the first was about sounding jubilant songs, while the second deals with another suitable subject for lawyers – the rights of men.
A line-up of five soloists from the choir sang well in these excerpts, particularly Amanda Barclay, soprano, apart from starting slightly off-key. Then the choir gave Telemann all they had, in a very vigorous performance.
The soloists sounded more comfortable in Monteverdi’s ‘Beatus vir’, a setting of Psalm 122 from his Selva Morale e Spirituale of 1640. It is probably his best-known choral piece. Four of the five soloists from the Telemann appeared again, with the addition of two other male singers. The women on the whole acquitted themselves better than the men, and again, occasionally the choir and soloists were drowned by the orchestral sound. However, with strings only, we heard more from the soloists. The choir sang well, with plenty of lung power; the orchestra played with appropriate style. Rhythm and articulation were good, and the beauty of the woodwind playing stood out particularly. The choir parts were clear and confident.
Owen Clarke has conducted the annual concert for a number of years, even after moving to Auckland, and now Australia. He spoke briefly to the audience about how he enjoyed taking part in this annual event. He was followed by Lara Cooke (no relation to Merran Cooke), a teenager who has suffered two major bouts of cancer. She spoke clearly, fluently and unemotionally about her experiences, and the help she and her family had received from the Child Cancer Foundation. It was a moving experience to learn a little of what she had gone through, including having to move to Christchurch and Auckland at different times to receive treatment.
A medley from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess followed; an arrangement by Ed Lojeski. ‘I got plenty o’ nuttin’ opened for the orchestra, and the wind players certainly opened their lungs. Anna Rowe sang ‘Summertime’, amplified, to excellent effect – although in St. Andrew’s acoustic I did not think that amplification was necessary. The choir came in too, and piano and percussion were added. The choir reiterated the opening number, using the pronunciation ‘nothing’. Then there was ‘It ain’t necessarily so’, with Ken Trass an excellent soloist, along with the choir. ‘Bess, you is my woman now’ had similar treatment.
Idiomatic, well-rehearsed singing of a good standard were the marks of the entire medley, with clear words. There were some delightful clarinet passages before the medley ended strongly with ‘O Lord, I’m on my way’.
Three Beatles songs concluded the programme, the music arranged by Daniel Hayles, a New Zealander who teaches jazz at the New Zealand School of Music here in Wellington, the skilled arrangement being commissioned for this concert. The soloist was Mauricio Molina, a Wellington singer originally from Argentina. I found his amplified voice too loud in the first song, in the St. Andrew’s acoustic. The choir also sang, in Sergeant Pepper, Penny Lane and All you need is Love, but in the first song they could hardly be heard. Things were much better in the gentler Penny Lane. The soloist was not too loud, his words could be understood, and the choir could be heard. The triumphant ending of the last song had the audience joining in clapping the rhythm. The beginning and ending of the song features phrases from La Marseillaise – a great effect.
Sponsors contributed to the cost of the concert; all audience donations would go to the Child Cancer Foundation. I trust this was a considerable sum; the musicians worked hard for it.