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Review: Mozart Requiem at City Recital Hall 

Review by Isabella Rahme 

In their first performance of 2024, Sydney Chamber Choir presented a spectacular and inspired performance of Mozart’s Requiem. This final masterpiece of Mozart’s was paired with his much shorter but no less beautiful Ave Verum Corpus, as well as a Bach motet and Australian composer Iain Grandage’s Why Do We Exist? 

Led by their Artistic Director Sam Allchurch - one of Australia’s leading choral conductors - Sydney Chamber Choir opened the program with a delightful performance of Bach’s Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (Sing to the Lord a new song). With impeccable timing and diction (that carried throughout the entire program) Allchurch led the choir in their highly energised performance of this jubilant work. In the opening movement, the interaction between the two choirs resounded throughout the recital hall. This was followed by a gentle chorale that moved the audience with its beautiful moments of tension and resolution. This second movement also included four-part ‘aria’ interjections which propelled the piece forward. The final movement returned to the triumphant energy of the opening, where the final four-part fugue was a highlight of the work as the choir demonstrated the extent of their precise yet emotive performance abilities. 

This was followed by Why Do We Exist?, a work by one of Australia’s most highly regarded collaborative artists, Iain Grandage. Composed in 2016, this work is a setting of Australian poet Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s poem of the same name. Grandage’s setting was built around a key gesture of contrary motion scales rising in the upper voices and descending in the bass. The piece opened a seamless blend between the strings of the Muffat Collective Orchestra and the choir, as they both created sounds of birdsong for the initial violin melody to emerge from. Grandage explored a range of beautifully rich and resonant choral harmonies in this work that expressed themselves over the textures of the string ensemble - including a simple yet effective pizzicato double bass figure that added to the resonance in the hall. The contemplative work closed with a gradual diminuendo of the choir into the strings, showcasing the choir’s dynamic range and control. This precise gesture was a truly gorgeous final moment in an overall vivid composition. 

As a preface to the Requiem to come, the Sydney Chamber Choir performed a stunning rendition of a well-loved Mozart choral work, Ave Verum Corpus. Allchurch led the choir in a poignant performance of this short but moving work, giving the audience a taste of the Mozart masterpiece to come. 

The performance of the Requiem that followed was nothing short of magnificent. From the first orchestral entrances of the Introit the magic of the work came to life, and this was only amplified by the staggered choral entries, full of dynamic expression. The choir’s attention to detail at Allchurch’s direction was as apparent as at the start of the program, with great diction and clear choral lines that balanced well with the orchestra. Soprano soloist Celeste Lazarenko made her first appearance with a gorgeous solo amidst the intricacies of Mozart’s choral writing.

As the contrapuntal motifs of the Kyrie were passed around the choir, the ensemble continued to expertly balance the material to allow for Mozart’s fugal writing to properly shine. 

The opening Dies Irae chorus of the Sequence showcased the height of Sydney Chamber Choir’s energy, with a level of commitment and conviction resulting in the sound of a much bigger choir. 

The Tuba Mirum that followed gave the audience the opportunity to hear all four soloists together for the first time. Bass David Greco’s opening phrases demonstrated impeccable breath control as he projected across the recital hall to announce his presence. Tenor Richard Butler followed with a soaring response showcasing his beautiful tone. Mezzo Soprano Helen Sherman was next to join, presenting the rich colour of her voice for the audience to enjoy.

Soprano Celeste Lazarenko returned with beautifully controlled light high notes, before the quartet finally joined forces to sing the final phrases of the movement together. There was a lovely blend across the quartet, as they balanced each of their individual tones appropriately. The strength in sound of the string opening in the Rex Tremendae was matched by the powerful force of the choir’s statements, before quieting to a lighter sound for the final line of text: ‘Salve me, fons pietatis’ - ‘Save me, O Fount of Pity’

This was followed by the Recordare, where the strings and vocal quartet engaged in an intricate and passionate conversation, the highlight of which was the climactic unison forte statements towards the end of the movement. 

The Confutatis showcased the choir’s agility, with the Tenors and Basses singing loud and forceful passages followed by the Sopranos and Altos contrasting quiet and floating lines. The well-known and emotionally charged Lacrimosa was performed with the amount of nuance and attention to phrasing that a movement as iconic as this requires, as it captured the audience in its intensity. 

This was followed by the Offertory, where the Domine Jesu Christe continued to showcase the performers’ dynamism, and the Hostias presented rich and beautifully balanced vocal harmonies. 

The Sanctus was brought to life by the choir, with their joyous exclamations that refreshed the emotional palate of the audience before the Benedictus gave each soloist the opportunity to showcase their unique vocal colours. 

Tension returned to the recital hall as the Agnus Dei commenced, the dissonant harmonies of the opening resolving to more serene consonance before the final movement of the work. The Communion: Lux Aeterna saw a return to the material of the opening movement with new text and context, and therefore a newfound meaning. The choir played into the audience’s new understanding of the music to present an emotionally charged end to a spectacular performance. 

There is no doubt that the Sydney Chamber Choir’s marvellous performance of this masterpiece - and the rest of this wonderful program - will be on the minds of their audience for weeks to come, as they eagerly await their next performance in June.

Image Supplied


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