Thursday, November 7, 2019

Handel's "Dixit Dominus" one of the music highlights of the year!

Vespers for Kings and Cardinals
CORO Chamber Ensemble directed by Peter Young
Wesley Uniting Church
November 3 2019

by Tony Magee

Presenting two different settings of “Dixit Dominus”, one by Handel, the other by Charpentier, as well as two other pieces by the latter, CORO Chamber Music Ensemble delivered an outstanding, finely polished and refined performance. It was one of the classical music concert highlights of the year.

“Dixit Dominus” is a setting using the Latin text of “Psalm 110”, from The Book of Psalms, part of the third section of the Hebrew Bible and thus from the Christian Old Testament. Versus 1 and 4 are also quoted in the New Testament.

Translating as “The Lord Said”, the Psalm has also been set to music by Victoria, Monteverdi (twice), Pergolesi, Vivaldi (three times), Michael Haydn and Mozart amongst others.

Richard Rogers composed a partial setting in 1959, using versus 1, 5 and 7 for the opening sequence of his musical “The Sound of Music”.

One of the most impressive things about the interpretation of the three Charpentier works, which opened the concert, was the accurate, authentic and tasteful use of French Baroque ornamentation, from both choir and orchestra, starting on the note above.

Musical director Peter Young, who also played organ and harpsichord, has put in a massive amount of research into the preparation for this concert. In particular his transcription of Charpentier’s “Lauda Jerusalem”, was impressive, this being the Australian premier performance.

Also contributing greatly to the success of the Charpentier works, was the excellent solo continuo playing by cellist Sam Payne, delivering a solid bass foundation with superb intonation, aided by Peter Young’s sensitive organ playing, which served to accompany the many beautifully sung solo and duet vocal passages which are a hallmark of this era of music.

Composed and first performed in 1707, when Handel was aged just 22 and living in Italy, his setting of “Dixit Dominus” is one of his earliest substantial works, showcasing his incredible talent, skill and musical understanding as well as fresh new compositional ideas, which would influence other composers of the Baroque era over the next 50 years.

The choir and orchestra, led with precision by Barbara Jane Gilby, were much more voluminous during the Handel, rich and beautifully balanced, with superb pitch and intonation and with greater attention to dynamic range.

Throughout the Handel, one could hear sections, particularly the versus “Juravit Dominus” and “Judicabit”, which seem to have greatly influenced Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi, particularly in his setting of the “Gloria in D”, RV589. 

During the verse “Dominus a dextris tuis”, an unusual combination of the two cellos in unison with double bass supported two soprano soloists with tenor and bass in a fascinating and complex musical interplay.

Wesley Church is one of the most beautifully acoustically balanced venues for this kind of music. It allows for great clarity of sound, enhanced by a gentle cathedral resonance.

At the conclusion of the Handel, CORO and the orchestra had the audience on its feet, deservedly receiving rapturous applause for this superlative and highly professional performance.

First published in City News Digital Edition, November 4, 2019