Noël! Noël! is an exciting way to kickstart the holiday season if you are into classical music. This annual Christmas program of the Brandenburg Orchestra has become a popular event in Sydney and Melbourne. It offers a refined musical experience of the centuries-long traditions of Western art music that celebrate the birth of Jesus.
The annual Christmas series is a lucrative venture catering to a loyal classical music clientele that would perhaps not get excited about Robbie Williams’ new Christmas album and the new songs featured there or maybe some will. It was curated to showcase new music by Norwegian choral composer Ola Gjeilo and Sydney composer Alex Palmer or Palmer’s imaginative arrangements of loved carols among known pieces by master-composers Palestrina, Handel and Vivaldi.
Every year, this event promotes a gifted young artist. This year, Australian-born soprano Morgan Balfour charmed the audience with her smile and lustrous tone. Her natural florid passages and new ornamentation in Handel’s 'Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion' from ‘Messiah’ demonstrated excellent technique and attention to historically informed practice. The rendition of Handel’s ‘Eternal Source of Light Divine’ for soprano, sackbut and orchestra was the climax of the concert. Lofty sustained melodies and trills executed artfully by Morgan Balfour and sackbut player Ros Jorgensen conveyed a mutual feeling of reverence. Soloist, choir and orchestra joined forces to give an intriguing new rendition of Adam’s ‘O Holy Night’ arranged by Palmer.
The stars of the concert were the seven sopranos, five male altos, five tenors and five basses of the Brandenburg Choir conducted by Matthew Manchester. Precision of articulation, agility, balance and a vast range of dynamics marked their performances of ‘Kyrie’ from ‘Missa Gabriel Archangelus’ by Palestrina and Gjeilo’s ‘Prelude’. A fast tempo and volume nuances invigorated their rendition of ‘Deck the Hall’. Singing in German, French and English, the choir elevated the famous carol ‘Stille Nacht’ into an international hymn. Matthew Manchester had a great rapport with the choir and orchestra that achieved exquisite ensemble work and connection with the audience. The Brandenburg Choir is undoubtfully one of the finest vocal ensembles on the Australian classical musical scene.
The thirteen members of the Brandenburg Orchestra performed a range of instrumental pieces, one of them the famous La Folia by Vivaldi with zest. Three sackbuts and a baroque trumpet performed a delightful arrangement of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ tune of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ by Alex Palmer. Percussionist extraordinaire Brian Nixon brought playful Christmas cheer to almost every piece.
Reaching out to a broader audience, the 2019 Noël! Noël! season was presented at different locations in the Sydney metropolitan area, at the City Recital Centre, Angel Place and Melbourne Recital Centre. The absence of Paul Dyer was felt in this concert as he lifts the energy of both performers and audiences each time he steps onto the stage.
The City Recital Centre was full. The audience applauded the solo performances and followed the non-clapping convention after some of the new works. After a chance to sing at the end, they left in an excellent mood, some humming or singing ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’.
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra presents
Conductor Matthew Manchester
Venue: City Recital Hall | 2-12 Angel Place, Sydney NSW
Dates: 14 & 18 December 2019