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Glorious performance from a valiant chorale

Dan Walker conducts the Canberra Community Chorale at Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest.

Music /  “In Paradisum”, Canberra Community Chorale with chamber ensemble. At Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest, December 2. Reviewed by SARAH EC BYRNE.

THERE was a deservedly excellent turnout for the Canberra Community Chorale’s concert “In Paradisum” on Saturday evening. 

Composer and conductor Dan Walker supplemented his choir with a 10-piece chamber ensemble of first-rate local musicians, including leader/first violin Helena Popvic and the Chorale’s regular collaborator and accompanist Lucus Allerton on piano.

The program opened with a suite of five original works of Walker’s own composition, “Last Verses”. Walker has taken some of the final poetry from great writers and transformed them into truly beautiful lieder for his ensemble, each unique and harmonically rich. 

The musicians were flawless; the chorale valiant, and although there were a few challenging top notes, and some of the singers at times struggled slightly to keep up with the dense text of poems in quicker tempos, such as the lovely interpretation of “Feathers Torn From Living Birds” by poet Elinor Wylie. This was a wonderful work and I am so glad to have experienced it. 

The writers represented are DH Lawrence, Robert Herrick, Elinor Wylie, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Hardy, an unexpected but wholly felicitous curation of texts.

While I found the initial bars of the fifth movement (the Hardy) strangely pedestrian in contrast to the preceding pieces, it soon morphed into the rich and distinctive harmonies of its fellow travellers. I very much hope to hear this work again.

More familiar was the second half of the program, Faure’s glorious “Requiem”, one of the few reminders of a particularly religious upbringing that always brings me happiness. Faure broke the mould of funeral music in this piece, which celebrates life rather than mourning loss, and it’s always a pleasure to hear it. 

Diction is infamously one of the trickiest things for a choir to master, and the use of Latin in a way resolves this, as few of us expect to follow it, and are thus at liberty just to follow the text in the program (or order of service) and appreciate what Michael Flanders might have called “a jolly pleasing noise”. 

The uplifting fifth movement (“Agnus Dei et Lux Aeterna”) was especially well-delivered and, although again a soulless pedant might have found some of the top notes and cadences a fraction ragged, it would be an impoverished spirit that allowed it to impair their overall enjoyment of this glorious work.

Dan Walker is a remarkable musician and I look forward to discovering more of his work.

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