Concert review: Music lifts sombre note of Sacred Opera to spectacular heights

By Peter Williams

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Peter Williams
Peter Williams

What: Sacred Opera, Napier Civic Choir and Soloists and the Hawke's Bay Orchestra directed by Joes Aparicio, music by Brahms and Rossini.
Where: St John's Cathedral, Napier
When: Friday September 23.
- Reviewed by Peter Williams

The major work in the concert - Stabat Mater (Standing Mother) - formed the second part of the programme. A 14th-century liturgical work of the Roman Catholic rite, it tells of Christ's mother standing at the foot of the cross. While the subject is sombre and deeply serious, Rossini's treatment is somewhat incongruous with the vividly operatic style giving choir, soloists and orchestra the opportunity to project music which is truly spectacular.

Actually the choir had the smallest part, but made the most of its contribution in the opening Stabat Mater dolorosa and in the dramatic closing chorus, In sempiterna saecula, Amen, while the tenors and basses combined very effectively in alternating sections with bass Martin Snell's expressive singing in the unaccompanied Eja, Mater.

The four soloists - sopranos Lilia Carpinelli and Anna Pierard, tenor Brenton Spiteri and Martin Snell - were excellent in their quartets, dovetailing expertly with the choir and projecting their individual voices clearly from within the ensemble. Brenton Spiteri used the full range and dramatic possibilities of his voice in his splendid singing of the Cujus animam, while Lilia Carpinelli and Anna Pierard combined effortlessly, complementing each other in the duet Quis est homo.

The fifty member Hawke's Bay Orchestra made a powerful contribution with plenty of impressive solo lines and dramatic introductions, such as in the Sancta Mater quartet. Certainly at times the orchestra overpowered both soloists and choir, but there was no doubt of the impact made on the whole concert, while conductor Joes Aparicio was always in control of every facet of the music.

Three sombre works by Brahms - Burial Song, Funeral Song and Song of the Fates - made up the first part of the programme. While Brahms is not known particularly for his choral compositions, these works certainly conveyed the typical Brahmsian sound with their rich harmonic vocabulary, intricacy of parts and wide-ranging expression.

There were many fine moments, such as the sense of climax achieved and the strong projection of the men's voices - particularly the tenors - in the final work. The orchestra again sometimes swamped the choristers but had some impressive moments, such as the brass alone in the accompaniment of the first work and in the bold introduction to the Song of the Fates.

Full marks to orchestra trumpeter Thomas Wilkinson for his informative programme notes.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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