The concert finished with a transporting interpretation of the Motet, Lobet den Herrn from Johann Sebastian Bach, and, after enthusiastic applause from the well-attended church, with two Spirituals as encores.

In the footsteps of the Explorers

By Klaus Trapp

DARMSTADT – On the trail of the European explorers, the Australian Chamber Choir from Melbourne presented the fourth concert of the International Organ Summer in Darmstadt’s Pauluskirche.

The extensive program notes paired the experiences of the brave circumnavigators with European music from the same times. But for the Australian guests, it was also significant that millenia before the (European) “conquest”, their land was already populated by indigenous peoples, and music from their homeland reminded us of this.

The result was a rich kaleidoscope of music, ranging stylistically from the Renaissance to the Modern. Sparing gestures from director Douglas Lawrence were sufficient to move the eighteen choristers to vivid music making. Shining sopranos, lucid altos, supple tenors and basses united in a perfectly harmonised a cappella sound. Excellent soloists emerged from the ensemble from time to time, all combining to create an exciting program, rich in contrast.

The Gloria from the Missa Pange Lingua and the pastoral song Bergerette Savoyenne were composed by Josquin des Prez in 1504, at the same time as the first world maps were created in Venice. And the Portuguese Vicente Lusitano wrote his bold, chromatically saturated Heu Me in 1520, as German cartographers created the first globe upon which a southern continent was labelled “Terra Australis”.

The choir grew through its interpretations to the first highpoint, the Motet Hodie Christus natus est composed by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck in 1619, at the time as the first Europeans landed on Australia’s West coast. Two rarely heard choruses for mens’ voices from Ludwig van Beethoven, the solemn Song of the Monks and the serene Farewell Song, came from the time when the term “Australia” was adopted into common parlance for the worlds “newest” continent. And the Trois Chansons of Claude Debussy, like the hymn O sacrum convivium by Olivier Messiaen corresponded to the period when Australia’s inland was explored by Europeans, mostly assisted by knowledgeable indigenous people.

The native language of the fifth continent rung out through verses by indigenous poet, Bill Neidjie, in a taught setting by Melbourne composer, Tom Henry.

And at the centre of the program stood a work by Sydney composer, Alan Holley, premiered by the choir in 2019. Here the chamber choir demonstrated its professional mastery of modernist techniques such as strong dissonances and glissandi.

The concert finished with a transporting interpretation of the Motet, Lobet den Herrn from Johann Sebastian Bach, and, after enthusiastic applause from the well-attended church, with two Spirituals as encores.

Echo Darmstadt, July 19, 2019

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