Members of the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs in a past performance.
SYDNEY PHILHARMONIA CHOIRS
Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, December 8
The extended family of Sydney Philharmonia Choirs – a clutch of strings and percussion, four choirs, three each of conductors, soloists and boy sopranos, two pianists and one organ - joined forces to celebrate An English Christmas.
The lack of any partridge in a pear tree mattered not, for there is a plenteous supply of beautiful music in the rich English choral tradition to compensate for the absence of a mere festive fowl.
Director Brett Weymark contrived a joyful stocking-full of largely 20th-century works for the first half of the evening, concentrating on choral settings by Warlock, Bax, Holst, Head, Darke, Vaughan Williams and Britten, wrapping these between the piquant movements of Peter Warlock's Capriol Suite.
The whole affair was presented something like a relay, in which the baton passed, figuratively at least, between three conductors: Weymark, Elizabeth Scott and Anthony Pasquill.
The Vox ensemble, directed by Elizabeth Scott, negotiated the tricky modulations of Warlock's Bethlehem Down with satisfying ease and transparency of tone.
Directing Byrd's Lullaby my sweet baby and Britten's Hymn to the Virgin, Pasquill achieved with the Chamber Singers some of the best performances of the evening: both items, beautifully phrased, generously offered antiphonal pleasures.
The deliberately archaic musical language of Holst's Four Old English Carols and Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Christmas Carols summon the ghosts of musical times past. Very much present, soprano Amy Corkery provided plum-pudding rich solos, her voice soaring evenly to great heights in the Holst. But it was baritone Alexander Knight whose clarity of diction combined with focused intonation, made here, as in the Vaughan Williams, the composers' texts meaningful.
The second half was devoted to Britten's St Nicolas, in which the combined choral forces sang with the same verve heard earlier in the program, bringing each dramatic episode to pulsing life in a spirit of celebration.
As St Nicolas, tenor Andrew Goodwin was impressive, though an occasional fast vibrato robbed some passages of the purity of sound he achieved elsewhere. Sebastian Pini, Owen MacNamara and Lachlan Massey as the three pickled boys sang their brief solos with telling innocence.