Sydney Philharmonia Choirs
Opera House, December 14
The sound of 651 choristers and 48 instrumentalists singing and playing Hallelujah certainly has its splendour. Since Handel’s day, his Messiah has been a magnet for such monster performances, no doubt in good part because of the effect of this chorus under these conditions.
Other choruses, particularly those like For unto us a child is born requiring light agility, sound less well and for this performance by Sydney Philharmonia Choirs joined by Paramatta’s new River City Voices and a gathering of 470 extras, collectively named the Christmas Choir, the permanent choirs sang the more intricate fugues keeping the cavalry for climactic moments.
Tenor Andrew Goodwin established an intimate tone with an attractive coloured voice in the opening words, Comfort ye, and carried the pivotal recitative of Part 2, Thy rebuke has broken his heart, with radiant expressiveness. Bass-baritone Christopher Richardson had a sound that mixed clear definition with rich darkness and he and trumpeter Daniel Henderson came together in The trumpet shall sound with gleaming mellifluous lines.
Counter-tenor Nicholas Tolputt balanced lightness and pure tone with creamy finish in Oh thou that tellest good tidings to Zion. Soprano Celeste Lazerenko created a hushed glow to the sound to match shimmering strings in the recitative And there were shepherds abiding in the field and light flow in the ensuing aria Rejoice greatly. She and oboist Ngaire de Korte created delicate celestial balance in Thou art gone up on high. Conductor Brett Weymark maintained cohesion and momentum among this large army.
I found some of the tempi on the quick side, inhibiting the ability of the line to find its natural shape and points of emphasis, and the articulation occasionally over-crisp, resulting in unfortunate accents at the ends of phrases (such as in All we like sheep). In addition to the big choruses, the choirs achieved warm depth in simple lines like that leading into the last chorus.
The Sydney Philharmonia Orchestra, led by Fiona Ziegler, was professional and attentive. As well as their musical interest, performances like this enact a sense of community that has survived their original religious orientation into the secular age. In this context, it was particularly welcome to hear choirs drawn from across Sydney in all its diversity.