“Seventeen tracks compiled from live concert recordings show the beautiful tone, flawless intonation, and excellent balance between the parts that the Australian Chamber Choir has achieved under conductor Douglas Lawrence AM. Favourite works from 1400s to the end of the Baroque period are interspersed with some worthy, but lesser known, pieces on this superb CD.”
Douglas Lawrence AM (b.1943), the conductor, is a renowned concert organist, and is clearly also master choral craftsman. For his contribution to the performing arts, particularly to chamber choirs, he was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia in 2020. In 1969, after completing a Master of Music at the University of Melbourne, he continued organ studies at the Vienna Musikhochschule and there he also worked under conducters Hans Swarovski and Hans Gillesberger, then Director of the Vienna Boys Choir. From 1983 to 2006 he conducted the Choir of Ormond College taking it on eleven overseas concert tours and he has continued this tradition of performing internationally with the Australian Chamber Choir (ACC)which he founded in 2007 after his tenure with Ormond College finished. A happy result of this is that the ACC has promoted Australian works in many countries.
So since 2007, the ACC has done seven concert tours in Europe, released five CDs and performed over 200 concerts! They give an annual series in Australia and tour biennially to venues such as St Martin-in-the-Fields London, Thomaskirche Leipzig, Berlin, Bonn and Lausanne Cathedrals, St Germain Geneva and the Augustinerkirche in Vienna. They receive many return invitations and the highest accolades for their work both overseas and here in Australia! As one can see from the photo below, the choir members (who are paid to perform), are all youngish and in the early parts of their careers. Douglas is the only white hair amongst them.
The tracks were compiled from recordings of five concerts the ACC gave in 2018 and 2019 and are mainly the top favourites from the High Renaissance to the time of J.S. Bach. So we have, for example, to start, Ave Maria and Gloria from the “ Missa Pange Lingua” by Josquin des Prez, then two versions of O Magnum Mysterium – by Tomás Luis de Victoria (surely one of the most beautiful choral pieces ever composed!) and that by Giovanni Gabrieli. Sweelinck’s Hodie, Christus natus Est follows and the singing is extraordinary – such exuberance and such superb intonation! There are also three pieces by Praetorius, and five favourites of J.S. Bach.
Elspeth Bawden sings O Jesulein Süss (BWV 493) with a warm resonant tone and beautiful phrasing and is accompanied by Elizabeth Anderson (Lawrence’s wife) on organ. It makes a welcome change from the full choral sound of the other tracks, as does Anderson playing two movements of Bach’s Pastorale (BWV 590) for solo organ. She accompanies the choir in Andreas Hammerschmidt’s Halleluya, Freuet euch ihr Christen alle, a lesser known work, and the composer’s most popular piece, while all the other pieces on the disc are sung a cappella. Bach’s motet Lobet den Herrn (BWV 230) is the longest work and is seven and a half minutes of sheer virtuosic choral singing with never a note out of place, and a precision that is absolutely stunning. The net effect is so uplifting and joyful, it must have had the audience on their feet. I just immediately played it again – Christmas for the ears!
Also included are lesser known pieces – Johannes Eccard’s Resonet in Laudibus (1597), Adam Gumpelzhaimer’s Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich herr (1618) and In dulci jubilo of Samuel Scheidt (1620). The final track is the lovely Basque carol –The angel Gabriel from heaven came – arranged by David Willcocks.
The comprehensive CD notes, which include song texts and translations, are interesting and informative with some written by Dr.Leighton Triplow (one of the choir’s tenors). The rest are by the Australian composer and academic, R.J. Stove, who adds some amusing anecdotes to the historical background of the pieces. For example, he informs us that the Basque carol ,The angel Gabriel, was promoted by an Anglican clergyman called Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) whose other claim to fame was a treatise from 1865 on the habits of werewolves! “You never know when this might come in handy ” adds Stove. Also re the authorship of the text of In Dulci Jubilo he writes: “ It is traditionally ascribed to Heinrich Suso (c.1295-1366). But Suso denied actually having conceived it. Rather he maintained that angels had dictated it to him and that during their visitation they also persudaded him to join them in a dance of worship”.
I agree wholeheartedly with the reviewer who wrote in Dagbladet, Rinsted, Denmark, on 8 July 2015 “Australian choir in super league”. The CD is a wonderful celebration of Christmas music from that period and congratulations to the team of recording engineers too for their work producing such a fine disc.
The Australian Chamber Choir has a library of pay-to-watch content at ACCess.auschoir.org.
Here is the ACC singing Praetorius’ Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen (one of the songs on the CD)