George Frederic Handel’s Dixit Dominus is a challenge for any choir and orchestra, and when set next to Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria, together they make a splendid program. The Graduate Singers with an orchestra of fine local players, conducted by Karl Geiger, tackled this wonderful pair of works with enthusiasm and determination, before an audience of supporters who recognised the value of a live performance of these great choral favourites over a much vaunted televised ceremony taking place on the other side of the world at the same time.
This concert provided some very fine moments, particularly from the orchestra and the soloists. The overall impression, however, was one of a competent but somewhat lacklustre performance by a choir from which one has come to expect rather more dynamism and excitement, especially in works of the calibre of the two treasures programmed.
Opening the concert with the Vivaldi, Geiger set a cracking pace which proved a bit much for the unfortunately exposed trumpeter in the opening bars. All was forgiven as the choir and orchestra took over the exuberant first movement with notable immediacy, and which was then contrasted nicely with Et in terra pax hominibus with the choir’s legato, against the gently pulsing strings.
The two soprano soloists, Alexandra Bollard and Brooke Window, were beautifully matched in their Laudamus te… duet, as they were in their ethereal duet (De torrente in via bibet) in the Handel work, making it plain that they are used to singing together. They were equally matched by the lovely voice of mezzo soprano Charlotte Kelso in both works, particularly in Domine Deus…,(Vivaldi) in which she was exquisitely accompanied by the sensitive and expert playing of cellist Jacqui Finlay, and Peter Kelsall at the organ. She showed she is an agile singer, who will be worth keeping an eye on. Tenor David Hamer also acquitted himself well, and it would be good to hear more of Bass soloist Lachlan Scott, who had a small but finely expressed part in this concert.
One thing missing in both works – and this is not an issue unique to this choir – was precision in diction, particularly in terminal consonants. This seems is perhaps an expression of a fashion in choral singing of late – as if in reaction to what could be seen has “over spitting” of consonants in some cathedral style singing in the past. Nevertheless, to underplay diction is to disrespect the composer’s choice to set his fine music to words, which are then an integral part of the whole.
When the Handel work started after the interval, again the Geiger adrenalin was evident, and the breakneck speed meant that we lost some of the lower notes as they flashed by in the arpeggiotic phrases of the dramatic orchestral opening. It is a credit to the fine orchestra (led by Sarah Wozniak) and the soloists that they kept up so well. Somewhat lacking in other sections of the work, the choir demonstrated some nicely controlled dynamics in this magnificent movement.
The pace kept up, mostly with good effect, in spite of some close calls in the challenging and contrapuntal chorus ... secundum ordinem Melchisedech, but Geiger’s strict discipline prevailed in the fugal Judicabit in nationibus, which demands considerable virtuosity from choir and orchestra alike, and all came through unscathed.
Fugues can notoriously get messy for choirs, but discipline reigned again and the magnificent final chorus ...et in saecula saeculorum, Amen was managed well by these forces, delivering a rousing end to this enjoyable concert: a satisfactory and rewarding alternative to that competing event on the telly.
Graduate Singers presents
Conductor Karl Geiger
Venue: Elder Hall, University of Adelaide SA
Dates: 19 May 2018