An American Portrait – Sunday May 21 at 2:30pm, Wesley Church, Yarra Street, Geelong
Review by Helen Lyth in the Choral Grapevine
Review by Colin Mockett at Entertainment Geelong
This unusual concert for the Chorale was reportedly not to every member’s taste. Some singers were believed to hold the view that our region’s premier choir should stick to its traditional material, drawn from classical and/or sacred musical catalogues.
But for this reviewer – and, I’d hazard, a clear audience majority – this concert was just perfect. Sure, there were some challenging moments, but for the most part, this was a concert of delight.
It took the form of five different groups of well-known American songs, each having their backgrounds explained by the knowledgeable Allister Cox before being delivered with clarity and dexterity by the Chorale.
To this history and music buff, this was concert nirvana. It was entertaining, enlightening, informative – and delivered in the most stylish musical way.
Following a short, humorous intro from Director Cox, ‘we planned this concert a year ago before political events in America overtook us..’ including a well-delivered mock Trump call, he went on to explain the context of the first group of spirituals, neatly detailing their roots in the deep south’s slavery era. Then the Chorale delivered Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Soon Ah Will Be Done, Deep River and Ain’t Got Time To Die with joy and care if not quite the jubilation of a revivalist meeting.
Then followed a Stephen Foster medley following Allister’s potted biography which noted that the author of so many of America’s landmark tunes died with just 40c in his pocket. The Chorale, in unfamiliar but effective formation with tenors front and centre, then delivered I Dream Of Jeanie, My Old Kentucky Home and Beautiful Dreamer with sensitive élan.
A folksong section followed, with Shenandoah, The Riddle Song, Long Time Ago and Ching-A-Ring Chaw receiving the concert’s explanation before refined delivery treatment, and then a trio of Art Songs in Samuel Barber’s Sure on this Shining Night, Randall Thompson’s ironic 1940 multi-layered Alleluia and Stephen Paulus’ The Road Home.
Then came a build-up to the concert’s finale in a section titled ‘Medleys from the Shows’. This preamble told us, among other things, that George Gershwin sought classical training when he was the most successful songwriter in the world and that Judy Garland’s Over The Rainbow was almost cut from The Wizard of Oz as being too slow. Highlights in this section included an amazing number of hit references rolled into the chorale’s Gershwin medley; Helen Seymour and John Stubbings’ duet in Cole Porter’s Night and Day – and the Chorale’s enthusiastic delivery of the thigh-slapping theme tune for Oklahoma!
The concert’s finale was, almost inevitably, the rousing Battle Hymn of the Republic – but only after Director Cox had explained just who John Brown was, and why his body mouldered in the grave.
As always, pianist Kristine Mellens gave the Chorale her fine, unobtrusive support – and I believe that the enthusiastic final applause would have won over even the most sceptical chorister.
For this was a concert of unexpected delights.
— Colin Mockett