Admirable performances of Fauré requiem and other French music from Kapiti Chamber Choir

The Romantics presented by the Kapiti Chamber Choir
Director: Eric Sidoti; organist: Janet Gibbs
Fauré: Requiem, Cantique de Jean Racine and Les Djinns;
Four motets by Bruckner: Locus Iste, Virga Jesse, Christus Factus Est and Afferentur Regi
Saint-Säens: Calme des Nuits; Rhapsodie I and Rhapsodie II for organ, Opus 7

St Paul’s Anglican Church, Paraparaumu,

Sunday 21 April, 2.30pm

The members of that musical gem of the Kapiti Coast, the Kapiti Chamber Choir, have reason to be well pleased with their new conductor Eric Sidoti. His debut concert with them at St Paul’s church in Paraparaumu on Sunday, April 21 had everybody, singers and audience, smiling. They presented a well chosen and balanced programme entitled The Romantics, a pleasing mix of the familiar and the unknown. The delightful first half consisted of relatively short pieces contrasted with the dramatic Fauré Requiem of  the second half. Opening with Calme des Nuits by Saint-Säens was a brave move but an enchanting one in which Sidoti introduced himself as a master of the atmospheric. Shimmering sounds and beautiful dynamic shaping of phrases were established and continued throughout the programme. A little uncertainty in the sopranos did not last long and they went on to really distinguish themselves. Two short motets by Anton Bruckner followed, Locus Iste and Virga Jesse, where we first heard a really big sound from the choir and where the baseline came through very strongly. Gabriel Fauré ‘s contribution to the first half, Cantique de Jean Racine, is beautifully melodic, rich in sounds and showed how suitable the French language is to this type of romanticism. Two more Bruckner numbers followed, Christus Factus  Est and Afferentur Regi. In the first of these the lack of male tenors showed up. Three of the five tenors in the choir are women, all of whom sing very well  but the sound is not as robust as it should be. In the second the choir seemed less secure than in the rest of the programme.

Slotted in between these were organ solos presented by Janet Gibbs. Janet has been in Melbournefor 10 years and it is a real delight to have her back. It was great to hear really good and hitherto unknown organ music so capably performed. Rhapsodie I and Rhapsodie II for organ, Opus 7, by Saint-Säens contained beautiful single line melodies, a well voiced fugal section and rich organ harmonies.

The first half ended with a piece that surprised and delighted both the choir and the audience.. Les Djinns by Fauré is an eerily dramatic depiction of the Djinns of Islam: full of fear, infernal cries, ghostly sounds and terror. It begins spookily, quietly, rises to a crescendo of fear and dies away to the faintest of sounds. The accompaniment to this was very ably played on the piano by Janet Gibbs and it is a pity that the piano tone did not do justice to her performance.

Mark Sidoti gave brief, interesting, informative and audible introductions to some of the music in a manner which established good rapport with the audience.

The Fauré Requiem is a gentler requiem than many others. It has been called “a lullaby of death” with death as a rest and deliverance rather than pain. Fauré said of it:
“…perhaps I have also instinctively sought to escape from what was thought right and proper after all the years of accompanying burial services on the organ! I know it all by heart. I wanted to write something different.”

This is an elegant and subtle Requiem, possibly the most widely loved of all and Sidoti with the Chamber Choir did it full justice. A particular feature of Sidoti’s work was the use of dynamic contrasts and in particular the attention paid to crescendi and diminuendi. He had changed the placing of the choir for the Requiem and this resulted in a rich and more homogeneous sound. The two  soloists were taken from the choir. This was an excellent decision on the part of the soprano, Shirley Gullery, who gave the well-known Pie Jesu all it requires in sweetness of sound whereas baritone Stuart Grant sang musically but lacked tonal quality. Both the soprano and the alto sections of the choir really distinguished themselves in this work with the chorus of angels ending the work most beautifully.

Janet Gibbs handled the organ reduction of the orchestral score with great sensitivity and musicality.

With Eric Sidoti the Kapiti Chamber Choir looks set to continue the high standard of performance established by its founder Peter Godfrey.


Kapiti Chamber Choir offers antidote to Christmas commercialisation

Joyous Christmas Music
Christmas Oratorio by J S Bach

The Kapiti Chamber Choir with Orchestra directed by Stuart Douglas

Soloists: Imogen Thirlwall – soprano, Emily Simcox – contralto, James Adams – tenor, Kieran Rayner – bass
With a 20 piece Orchestra led by Jay Hancox.

St Paul’s Church, Kapiti Road, Paraparaumu

Sunday 25 November, 2.30pm

Praise be to Stuart Douglas and the Kapiti Chamber Choir for giving Kapiti residents the opportunity to hear arguably the best Christmas music ever written, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Accompanied by an excellent orchestral ensemble they gave an enormously joyful performance from the first thrilling trumpet notes of Andrew Weir’s piccolo trumpet to the full bodied final chorale. They were obviously in the hands of a conductor with a great sense of musicality and style.This performance was not just a series of arias and chorales but a thoroughly integrated dramatic event.

The Orchestra, led by Jay Hancox, was a mixture of capable amateur and professional players, many of whom are Kapiti residents. Their playing was vibrant and exciting though just occasionally a little too heavy for the bass and contralto soloists in their lower registers. The instrumental obbligatos, virtually duets with the solo singers, were sensitively performed by Andrew Weir on trumpet, Peter Dykes on oboe and Malu Jonas on flute, all of whom gave thoroughly professional performances.

Douglas’s choice of the four young soloists was excellent. They all sang beautifully and were able to convey the full drama of the Nativity story. Soprano Imogen Thirlwall has performed several times in Kapiti and her rich and powerful soprano soared easily above everything the Orchestra threw at her. Emily Simcox, contralto, who has previously performed with the Kapiti Chorale, has a voice  of great warmth and tenderness which she combines with a riveting presence.

As the Evangelist tenor James Adams proved himself a true story-teller, singing with drama and communicating well with the audience. Bass Kieran Rayner has been singing in Kapiti since he was very young and showed the increasing maturity and depth of his voice. His well-known acting skills were well to the fore in his exciting presentation.

The choir performed Bach’s very demanding score with vigour and precision, providing a big sound when necessary but also great delicacy in the unaccompanied chorale Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier. The usual lack of strength in the tenor section, due to lack of tenors, did not seriously detract from this uplifting performance. The soprano section was notably excellent.

With judicious cutting of the original score by Douglas we were given a full two hours of glorious music – a wonderful antidote to the crass commercialisation of the season. As I was leaving an audience member said to me “I feel so much better for that”.