Looking at works being programmed in Melbourne at the moment you would never know that 2022 marks the 150th anniversary of one of England’s greatest composers. Thanks to Victoria Chorale Melbourne, arguably his most popular work, The Lark Ascending, took melodious flight this weekend.
In his opening remarks, Victoria Chorale’s enthusiastic conductor, Mario Dobernig, introduced violin soloist Yi Wang as “The God of the Violin”. High praise indeed – and not without merit given Yi Wang’s distinguished international career and positions of Principal Violin with a number of Australian orchestras. His solos as Concertmaster of Orchestra Victoria have been much admired for the clarity, elegance and warm beauty of his playing by audiences and colleagues alike, and he brought all these qualities to his performance of Vaughan William’s pastoral masterpiece.
The Art of Sound Orchestra was a worthy accompaniment to his supple embodiment of a lark’s flight, providing a warm cushion of sustained string sound at the beginning and end of the work, and swelling to full orchestral splendour with some fine playing from the wind section along the way. Dobernig was very attentive to orchestral dynamics, ensuring that the violin was appropriately featured. The unaccompanied passages were seamlessly woven into the orchestral fabric – pure, graceful and entrancing as the audience sat absolutely still, hanging on every note. The shift from Yi Wang’s role of soloist to that of concertmaster ensured that what followed would be enhanced by his presence.
Given time constraints and the desirability of the other two works, only two movements from Joseph Haydn’s The Seasons were included in this program. In addition to the many choruses in the Haydn, the two seasons were separated by Mozart’s Kyrie in D minor K341 from around 1789 – two years before his death. Victoria Chorale believes that theirs was possibly the first performance of this work in Australia. It might have been two horns short, but the rest of the required substantial orchestra gave a stirring performance, with timpani and brass alternating with winds, and male and female members of the chorus alternating in a Kyrie/Eleison response. A great piece of programming.
Summer and Spring also seemed like good choices for a gloomy Saturday evening. Haydn composed the second of his famous bilingual oratorios after the popular success of The Creation – recently performed by Melbourne Bach Choir in St Paul’s Cathedral. Both librettos were prepared for Haydn by the Austrian nobleman Baron Gottfried van Swieten – a nice link to Victoria Chorale’s bilingual Austrian Australian conductor. Both works also feature vivid musical depictions of nature (summer storms and all) and incorporate humorous portraits of animals, such as the clamouring quails, chirping crickets and croaking frogs of Summer. Just the thing to lift the spirits.
Spring begins with a short overture – dramatic, stormy passages alternating with more serene ones. There was some fine work from the brass section at this point, and was continued throughout the concert. Their heralding before the strong choral entry of “Glorify Him” in the “Song of Joy” was particularly impressive. In fact, all sections played well, with featured instruments making notable contributions. In Summer, the horn obbligato for the bass aria “The shepherd gathers now his flock” and Emmanuel Cassimatis’s oboe obbligato for the soprano aria “Comforting to soul and body” were among the highlights.
Bass-baritone Christopher Richardson was a cheerful, animated soloist in all his recitatives and arias, his resonant voice rich and relaxed. Although sometimes appearing a little ill at ease, Joanna McWaters used her lovely soprano voice to good effect, often displaying an uncommonly beautiful gleaming tone. Completing the trio of soloists, tenor Christopher Busietta sang with pleasing tone and displayed musical sensitivity, his well-controlled messa di voce in the cavatina “Distressful Nature Swooning Sinks” particularly noteworthy. In the many trios they combined to form a nicely balanced whole.
One of the chief attractions of The Seasons is the way Haydn combines voices. Duets, trios and choruses intertwine and reinforce each other. Victoria Chorale sang with enthusiastic vigour in the big choruses and displayed good discipline in general. The sopranos sounded increasingly confident, handling some challenging higher passages with brightly shining tone. There were obviously some talented singers among their ranks. The final lilting chorus was a fitting way to end an uplifting concert celebrating nature.
As the almost capacity audience applauded enthusiastically, one of Yi Wang’s pupils came forward to present him with a large bouquet – a sweet gesture in keeping with the friendly atmosphere generated by this commendable community choir and its fine conductor.
Photo credit: Adrienne Bizzarri
Heather Leviston reviewed the concert of music by Vaughan Williams, Haydn and Mozart presented by Victoria Chorale Melbourne at Hawthorn Arts Centre on September 17, 2022.