by Nicholas M Tolhurst
Melbourne choir and coffee cultures have something in common: find a niche or an empty spot and voila! A choir or a coffee bar will materialise.
People seem to need little excuse to start a choir—a good thing too. What surprises is there are still ‘niches’ left to develop. Gloria Gamboz is a Melbourne-based musician who discerned that people working at the University of Melbourne wanted a choir of their own. There are plenty of choirs for university students and I’m not certain Concord is the only ‘staff’ choir, but Concord is now a creditable music landmark on the campus and now in Melbourne.
The concert prepared by Gamboz involved a dozen or so of the available Concord singers. Winter is a very risky time in Melbourne to hold a choir concert and apparently Concord lost a few numbers to the current bronchitis bug. Not that it showed. The balance of just three men with the alto and soprano lines was remarkable. The bass and tenor lines were beautifully blended, expertly sung and provided a near-perfect fit to the other lines (no one is ever perfect of course, but you get my point).
Discussing the choir with Gloria Gamboz I learnt that most of the Concord members have considerable experience as choral musicians. Gamboz has been smart to see the opportunity to bring these singers together. The talent and enthusiasm shows.
The program itself was a 50-minute sample of quality choral music down the ages. Gamboz likes to explore works that stretch the choir and provide the audience with something fresh.
Concord began with works of the great madrigalists Thomas Weelkes and Thomas Morley. Weelkes’ Hark, all ye lovely saints above is a challenging opener for the choir which had them on them mettle, producing an acutely focussed attack right from the start and keeping that focus on Gamboz throughout, to deliver a well-tuned and coloured performance.
Morley’s Do you not know and Now is the Month of Maying followed. It was interesting to hear the choir relax into the very familiar territory of the last madrigal, for their sound and attention relaxed a little and they began to sound like any other madrigal group. Hmmm.
The Maurice Duruflé Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens Op 10 of 1960 proved that Concord is not your average madrigal group (if indeed, such a think exists). Each of the four brief motets is introduced by a solo plainchant (Ubi caritas et amor; Tota pulchra es; Tu es Petrus; Tantum ergo) demonstrating the individual talent within the ensemble. Duruflé is safe ground and there is nothing really remarkable about these works for 1960, still Gamboz and Concord made them sound fresh in the generous acoustic of Wyselaskie Auditorium (a discovery in itself for me).
Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus (an old warhorse, or is that war-deer) was followed by Franck’s Panis Angelicus. These are both crowd pleasers, yet I think their familiarity to all encouraged the choir to relax a little and not give its best. Michelle Chong as soprano soloist gave Panis Angelicus the appropriate spiritual lift. She is not alone in possessing a fine, musical voice in this choir.
Concord was more on its toes for Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt SWV380, by Heinrich Schütz. The older I get the more convinced I am that the old Lutherans like Schütz to Bach really gave us the most profound and stimulating choral music we are likely to hear. Concord reaffirmed this for me with a well-crafted performance, responding well to Gamboz’ management of the punchy time signature changes throughout. Plaudits to Andrew Anderson as tenor solo and to instrumentalists Bernd Merkel (violin), Gerry Ma (viola) and Shaunagh O’Neill (piano) who completed the ensemble for the Franck and the Schütz.
The final two works in the concert were by Samuel Barber. The Coolin Op 16, No 3, is a strange work. A haunting Irish text is set by Barber with sudden harmonic shifts and unexpected metre stresses that can sound clunky, not. It’s a tough piece to bring off if it doesn’t swing along at a good pace. Oddly enough, it’s Barber who sounds wrong, not the choir if the pace gets a bit stodgy and this tended to happen. I could see Gamboz keeping it going, but, sorry Concord, a bit more follow the director was need here.
Barber’s Sure on this Shining Night Op 13 of 1940 predates Morton Lauridsen’s setting of James Agee’s poem by 65 years, yet in musical historical terms, the two works don’t sound very much far apart. I’ve not heard the Barber setting before and I feel guilty that, despite a really lovely performance by Concord, the Lauridsen setting keeps echoing in my head. The performance was perhaps more memorable than the work (or I am a choral lush).
Wrapping up: Concord is a fine idea wholly justified by the talent Gloria Gamboz has assembled. I particularly liked how some of the choir members took a turn at introducing a set in their own way—informative, intelligent and good-humoured. The next Concord concert is on 16 December this year. No further details are available as yet. Make a clamour for more info and get to their next gig.
Concord Choir: Winter 2013 Concert – Director Gloria Gamboz – Venue: Wyselaskie Auditorium, University of Melbourne – 16 July 2013