Noel! Noel!, the enchanting Christmas concert of timeless musical treasures premiering on December 8, 2018 by the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra at Melbourne Recital Centre, brilliantly achieved a state of grace; leaving their audience enthralled and in direct touch with the divine.
This adventure in music of the memorable kind resonated long after we all left the wondrous acoustic of the Elizabeth Murdoch Recital Hall. Guest soprano the very graceful Bonnie de la Hunty, together with the outstanding musicians of the ABO and the singers of the Brandenburg choir, excelled at every point on the ascending scale.
My companion Deputy Editor Belinda McDowall and I discussed following the show, how words alone would not begin to express our feelings about this abundant musical feast of the ethereal kind. Sublime was not enough to say.
Having attended these concerts for some years now, we did both agree we would have to say it was their finest to date. Thanks to artistic director Paul Dyer whose vision serves him well.
The program began brilliantly with a timeless plainchant treasure, O Euchari in Laeta Via, composed by German Benedictine abbess, polymath Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179).
It perfectly fulfilled her delightful notion music occurs where heaven and the earth meet.
Full of spiritual sensibility, this early music gem was unbound by time because of the simply stunning arrangement by Australian contemporary composer Alex Palmer.
His insight and skill ensured the work transcended history, as he gently and gradually revealed its supreme beauty.
There was no time to react and cheer the house down, because we met morphed immediately into a world of Gregorian Chant with the next two works; Rorate Coeli, a form of poetic expression about the coming of the Messiah and Veni Veni Emmanuel, a Christian hymn celebrating Advent and Christmas.
The arrangement was also glorious as the choir sang the verses in tandem, taking me back in time to the early years of this century, when I attended St Peter’s Abbey at Solesmes in France to hear the monks at Vespers, experiencing first hand the joyous rapture of chant in its original setting.
Must say after this all new experience, I once again fell into an exalted euphoric j’adore zone of my own for the rest of the concert.
On the night the ABO string players together with sackbutt’s delighted with the percussionist adding beautiful bells and musical jokes to beguile us all. There was a number of other highlights; a truly gob-smacking arrangement of Gartan’s Mother’s Lullaby by Alex Palmer and Maria Magdalena, also arranged by Palmer; beauty personified.
Then came the gem to end all gems.
Bonnie de la Hunty sang clearly, and with conviction, the great London based German born George Friderich Handel’s sensational “Let the Bright Seraphim”.
She presented it as an encouraging message from heaven about how we are all bound together on earth at Christmas time through love; tears flowed freely.
Let the bright seraphim
in burning row,
Their loud, uplifted angel trumpets blow.
Let the cherubic host,
in tuneful choirs,
Touch their immortal harps
with golden wires.
Her lovely voice complimented so sweetly by the Baroque trumpet played spectacularly by Leanne Sullivan, gave us the sense here was Christmas in a nutshell; the story of hope delivered with beauty, flair and joy.
Completing this sublime concert experience on a trio of wonders we enjoyed O Holy Night, followed by a simply stunning Stille Nacht, featuring a sensational solo from Tommie Andersson on Baroque guitar. To end joyously, we embraced the crowd pleasing perennial favourite, O Come All ye faithful.
Do rush to take up tickets still available, as the program will be presented in the city and regional areas of NSW until December 19.
You could also consider giving an Australian Brandenburg Orchestra Subscription for 2019 to someone you love for Xmas. Studying the stunning program on offer next year for their 30th Anniversary, it is sure to be their greatest gift of all.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, Christmas, 2018