Early and Baroque highlights welcome Musica Viva back to Perth Concert Hall for finale of its 75th season
Familiar, striking chords of JS Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor welcomed Musica Viva back to Perth Concert Hall on Monday, the second and final show of a COVID-curtailed 75th season.
One of the last major programs to return, Musica Viva suffered more than many from the suspension of international tours and visits.
Instead, local talent led the evening, with Joseph Nolan’s rendition of Bach a sample of the program he runs at St Georges Cathedral.
Nolan had curated early and Baroque music from a time when, as now, vaccines could not halt a pandemic.
He played the Bach with obvious relish amid a visual palette of warm light bathing the massive organ pipes and vibrant red Musica Viva banners.
Bach’s contemporary, Handel, was next with Eternal Source of Light Divine, switching to sacred themes.
Soprano Sara Macliver added to the audio-visual feast in a gown of jade spangles to rival Jenny Coleman’s brilliant trumpet.
High above the audience the two voices intertwined, each as ethereal as their lofty perch in the choir stalls, the organ a velvet cushion to the jewelled duet, last notes lingering like a soft breeze.
As the soloist came back to earth the St Georges Cathedral Consort walked on stage in darkness for lights to reveal another visual essay: black-clad ranks embellished by scarlet music folders.
Byrd’s Sing Joyfully reflected the early modern origins of the western canon, the blend and balance of the voices deftly pitched.
Lobo’s Versa est in Luctum turned to lament, with soaring upper voices and mellow sustainment in the lower register; Nolan as conductor almost kneading the sound to mingle and rise, leavening the mix.
Parsons’ Ave Maria was similarly descant-like in female voice and magisterial in support, phrases overlapping as a kaleidoscope of choral colour.
Handel’s Gloria summoned violinists Shaun Lee-Chen and Zak Rowntree with cellist Noeleen Wright and Macliver; a distinct Baroque lilt in strings and a swooning soprano line.
Macliver continued crystal-like in quality for Et in Terra Pax, fine-tuned to strings and organ.
Laudamus was more vigorous in the choir though measured and refined, while Domine Deus summoned a meditative mood.
Strings led a dance-like figure into Qui tollis Peccata Mundi, Macliver mesmeric in exposing the mystery of death and resurrection, before Quoniam Tu solus Sanctus reimagined devotion as drama and joy – a tour de force that drew whoops and cheers from the distanced crowd.
Excerpts of Handel’s O praise the Lord with One Consent introduced shades of the composer’s Messiah in the celebratory air of instruments and voices, seamless assurance in all parts a hallmark of the evening
Finally, Let the Bright Seraphim, from Handel’s opera Samson, reunited Macliver and Coleman, echoing one another in fanfare-like figures; strings and organ continuo relieving and encouraging an energetic finale.
Musica Viva’s 2021 season goes on sale on January 20 next year.
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